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LOCAL IMPACT

Finding resilience & building connections through Read Woke

The School Librarian at Meadowcreek High School empowers her students to advocate for themselves and their mental health through literature.

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LOCAL IMPACT

Finding resilience & building connections through Read Woke

The School Librarian at Meadowcreek High School empowers her students to advocate for themselves and their mental health through literature.

Books are medicine. That is the motto that Cicely Lewis, the school librarian at Meadowcreek High School in Georgia, United States, lives by each and every day. When the sudden wave of COVID-19 hit the world and a majority of students at Meadow Creek needed to transition to virtual learning, Lewis was worried about the impact it would have not only on the students but the library.

“A huge challenge was showing the power and purpose of the school library in the pandemic. The school library is reliant upon the students actually being in the space. Zoom exhaustion for the students impacted trying to conduct books clubs via Zoom. It was much easier to feel that connection again when they came back to the building,” says Lewis.

Connection was exactly what students said they missed most as teachers in Meadowcreek go the extra mile to connect with students. Lewis says the pandemic showed students, educators and even parents in the community that the school is more than just a building; Meadowcreek is a family.

“We provide so much to our students’ well-being, and I think during the pandemic they realized they need to speak up and use their voice to communicate what’s going on with them,” says Lewis.

By encouraging her students to advocate for themselves, Lewis has been able to prescribe help in the best way she knows how: books.

“I think many times we feel alone and we’re the only person going through what we’re going through. But books provide that connection, you can read about other people who are going through similar situations as you and how they handled it and got through it,” says Lewis.

Long before COVID-19, Lewis had been prescribing books to her students through the Read Woke Challenge. In response to the needs of students, Lewis launched this program in 2017 to give students an opportunity to read books that challenge the social norm, amplify unique voices, and challenge the status quo.

“I wanted my students to be able to see themselves in books and also be able to look into the lives of others in books, a concept introduced by Rudine Sims Bishop, the mother of multicultural literature,” says Lewis.

The Read Woke Challenge became especially poignant for Meadowcreek students when the murder of George Floyd sparked a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Lewis motivated her students to channel their frustration through books, as she believes it’s a great way for students to learn to advocate for themselves and learn that they don’t have to give up. Through this challenge, Lewis has been able to partner with Lerner Book Publishing to create a book series that gives young people the opportunity to learn about core issues in action, enabling them to take steps in their community to fight back in productive ways.

Her contributions to the students of Meadowcreek led to her being awarded the 2020 Librarian of the Year and in May 2021 she inspired other educators as a guest speaker during WE Well-being educator’s virtual event where she spoke on the topic of resilience.

“I think it’s so importance because when I was a novice and learning people supported me, shared with me and helped me to become a better educator. So, I feel like I’m giving back to other educators by doing this,” says Lewis.

Buttons with positive sayings on them.
Buttons with positive sayings on them.

As Lewis and other educators prepare for the new academic year, Meadowcreek will begin with a renewed focus on social emotional learning, and she hopes that after everything she’s learned about well-being this year that teachers are willing to be open-minded, flexible and practice self-care. Using resources like the WE Well-being Playbook, Lewis has found many helpful tips and strategies to share with colleagues, helping them look after their own well-being in order to better show up for their students. As Lewis puts it, educators need to put on their oxygen mask first before they can truly be beneficial to their students. Lewis says that as educators they’ve been taught the importance of deadlines, but she believes in the power of compassion and understanding.

“The pandemic truly showed us the power of compassion and when I first began teaching I was told that students need to know you care. This time has been a great reflection for educators, and it’s shown the power we have and how we can benefit the lives of students,” says Lewis.

WE Well-being is supported by the Hershey Company’s Heartwarming Project. Learn more about how the Heartwarming Project helps kids and teens build well-being skills and celebrates the power of connection for youth wellbeing here.

Now in its eighth year, the one-day event is run entirely by youth volunteers and provides local people in need with free goods and services: from groceries, to clothes and toys, to haircuts, vision screenings, and so much more. Over the last seven years, the event has served over 8,000 individuals, partnered with more than 200 organizations, donated an additional 38,000 pounds of clothing and food to local charities, and raised over $90,000 in grants and scholarships. We chatted with Tyler to find out more about the festival and his advice for other students wanting to volunteer and give back in their own communities.

WE Well-being is supported by the Hershey Company’s Heartwarming Project.  Learn more about how the Heartwarming Project helps kids and teens build well-being skills and celebrates the power of connection for youth wellbeing here. 

Hershey Heart Warming Project
Hershey Heart Warming Project