Big Ideas…

At last quarter’s parent-teacher conferences, Mr. Mischke sat down at my table to talk through a “big idea.”

I love these conversations with my principal–I feel incredibly fortunate to work for someone who dreams, thinks, and views the world with wide-open arms. Like me, he is a verbal processor who jumps from subject to subject and turns sharp corners in his conversations that some people find difficult to follow.

I am not one of those people…because it’s how my brain works through ideas too.

Here was his grand scheme–written in bullet point format because that is what he prefers…

  • To organize a volunteer read aloud event at the 7 area elementary schools that focused on making connections between high school students and primary education students.
  • The event would be based on Oprah Winfrey’s #JustSayHello campaign and the students would talk about the importance of reaching out to others with a simple hello.
  • We would work together with the Bounce Back Project and BHS Student Council’s RAVE (Respect and Value Everyone) theme.
  • The high school students would read and then donate books to each classroom’s collection.
  • Purchased locally from Buffalo Books as a donation from Bounce Back, the books would also focus on themes of empathy, social isolation, and the courage to connect.
  • To do the read aloud simultaneously in 111 classes on the SAME DAY at the SAME TIME.


First hurdle – convincing enough high school students to get up early to read at each of the elementary schools starting at 7:30 a.m. (You may have seen me begging children on my hands and knees).

Second hurdle – students don’t read emails. For most adults, we rely on email as a fundamental way to get any information out to a lot of people…this is not the case with most teenagers.

Final and biggest hurdle – Minnesota Winter. This February marks the snowiest and coldest February on record in Minnesota since they’ve been keeping a record of snowiest and coldest Februarys. We have had late starts and school closures resulting in 2 weeks of rescheduling read-aloud workshops, bus transportation, and the actual event (which was to be held on February 13th).

But would I do it again, and am I proud to work in a school district that has big ideas?



Challenge Accepted

I admit it, I’m stubborn and determined. I’ve always been this way.

Age 9, attempting to ride a bike without training wheels.

“You’re not going to be able to do it.”

Several hours, tears, and landings into the cornfield go by…but I was peddling that purple bike with banana seat sans training wheels by the end of the day.

Age 14, wanting to join a class already in progress.

 “You’ll never catch up. We’re too far ahead.”

Summer school, private tutoring before and after school, German camp…eventually I was on the same page.

Age 23, wanting to open my own coffee house. 

“You don’t have a business degree, you have no equity, what makes you think you can open a business?”

In Hot Water Coffee House will be celebrating 19 years of business this May.

Age 37, deciding to become a teacher.

“Going back to school? Don’t you think that’s a risky move at your age?”

Last December I received a master’s degree in teaching from Hamline College.

I can’t remember a time when challenges – either external or internal did not motivate me to accomplish something difficult.

And, believe it or not, making time to read is difficult, even for someone who works in a library. So, this year, I set a goal: to read a minimum of 50 books.

Today I will finish book #58 on my way home.

In addition to going above my goal, I have attempted to read a variety of book genres and types. I have read narrative non-fiction, graphic novels, thrillers, romantic comedies, and self-help books. I have read books that are part of a series and books that stand alone. I have read classics and best sellers. I have listened to audiobooks.

But most importantly, I have been focusing on reading books written by authors of color.

Did you know that in 2016, Black, Latinx, and Native authors combined wrote just six percent of new children’s books published? Last year that number moved up…to seven percent.

I’ve kept track of my reading by using the social media app Goodreads, and I’ve used my Instagram account to post pictures and short reviews of the books I’ve read.

Meeting up with friends at class reunions, at school, or at events, I’ve been surprised by the number of people who have thanked me for recommending or reviewing a book. Often I’m asked how I am able to find great books to read. Besides using the Goodreads app, or talking to friends and family, I do a lot of research.

Here are my go-to sources for looking for books to read and purchase –

American Library Association’s Young Adult Database

Minnesota Public Radio’s The Thread

New York Times 


We Need Diverse Books

Pulitzer Winners

Man Booker Prize Winners

National Book Awards

There are many more websites where you can find a list of quality and award-winning books. We have many of these books available in our Library Learning Commons.

Here are some pics of the books I read this year, most if not all are available or will be available (in the near future) in the Library Learning Commons.



Looking for the Great Perhaps

This entry is part of a blog series. Student academic peer coaches were asked to read and discuss a book of their choice. They were then encouraged to write about their connections to the book. Recent graduate Sophia Strommen and junior Cal James are the guest authors of this post and what follows is their reactions to John Green’s Looking for Alaska.


Sophia’s thoughts:

I find it difficult to discuss the concept of The Great Perhaps without first explaining The Labyrinth. If we think of a labyrinth as a maze of twists and turns designed to get us lost, we can assume that being outside of the labyrinth is more desirable than being inside of it. The question that I have is: What is the labyrinth, and what do we achieve by escaping it?

To me, The Labyrinth represents the journey through life. Upon entering this world, we search for our purpose in life. As we grow, we gain knowledge, skills, interests, and traits that make us into who we are. We create goals that we wish to fulfil, and we spend our lives trying to figure out our place in life, and how to reach our full potential— The Great Perhaps. I believe that everyone has their own unique Great Perhaps, which is shaped by their path through the labyrinth. It is our experiences in life that mold us into who we are, and who we would like to become.

For me personally, my labyrinth has been one with many twists and turns. Despite these challenges, I have learned resilience and allowed my experiences to make me into a better person. I understand that everyone faces obstacles in life, but I believe that through our hardships, as well as our triumphs, we become the people we are destined to be in life, and we fulfill our own unique Great Perhaps.

Cal’s thoughts:

In my opinion The Great Perhaps means that in everything we do in life there is going to be many outcomes. Nothing in life can completely go the way they are planned. You run into problems, improvise, try again, and in the end you hope for the best. In almost every aspect of life the outcome is determined by the income. If you are lazy, procrastinate, and don’t put any effort into doing your best, then you can expect to have a bad outcome. If you work hard, give 100%, and have a positive attitude, then most likely you will have a good outcome. I have heard a quote many times…”Nothing in life is unearned,” and I think John Green wanted us to see this through The Great Perhaps. Unless you can see the future you can never really know what’s going to happen next in life (The Great Perhaps), but everyone can prepare. It’s up to you to determine how much you are ready for what lies ahead.

5.2.jpgThis applies in my life in many ways, but the best connection I can make is with sports. If you put in the work outside of the season, then you can expect positive results. This includes lifting, speed training, cardio, etc. If you are willing to put in the time it narrows down the outcomes until they are only positive. This is what John Green wanted us to see….put in the effort into whatever you decide to do in life and don’t put the future to chance. Shape your own future to what you want it to be!

In and Out of My Comfort Zone

This entry is part of a blog series. Student academic peer coaches were encouraged to write about their experiences working as an academic peer coach. Junior peer coach Saylor VanLith is the guest author of this post.

When I started peer coaching I had no clue what I was doing and that made me uncomfortable. I don’t like being in unfamiliar situations, and I was nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to coach someone because I wouldn’t know how to help them. However, the actual part of coaching someone went a lot better than I expected. Once we went over how to ask them questions and work with them I felt a lot more comfortable being with a stranger. I felt more confident that I would be able to help them.

The highlight of my peer coaching experience included participating in some service learning with the residents of Parkview Nursing home.  I just loved how we got to talk with the elderly and eat lunch with them. I loved listening to their conversations and hearing about their lives.

Image may contain: 3 people, people eating, people sitting, food and indoor

One unique part of peer coaching to me was how we worked in the library. I didn’t know that we would be helping out around the library. Something I learned through peer coaching was that you can always ask someone for help if you need it. Everyone in the library is friendly and easy to approach which makes asking for help a lot better. I am grateful for is being able to build relationships with the other peer coaches and library staff. Without the other peer coaches this experience wouldn’t have been half as good as it has been.

Turtles All The Way Down

This entry is part of a blog series. After reading and discussing a book of their choosing, student academic peer coaches were encouraged to write about their connections. Recent graduates and peer coaches Grace Eiden, Averi Linz, and Lindsey Kaufman are the guest authors of this post.


Grace’s Thoughts:

At the end of Turtles All the Way Down, the “future” Aza begins to explain life moments that you aren’t completely aware of in the moment. She discusses how at the particular present moment of laying under the stars with Davis, she didn’t know what was to come in life and the battles she would face. She wasn’t aware of how beautiful the present moment was. This concept, although simple in words, can become very complex when thinking about life in the past, present, and future.

As a senior in high school, looking back on these past four years has been a whirlwind of emotions. There are no words to describe what I would do to be back in freshman science class on the first day, unaware of all the good and bad times that were to come. At the moment, I didn’t realize how safe and innocent those moments in that classroom were. I didn’t know that the enjoyment of my first high school science class would lead me to take CIS College Chemistry, and want to go on to continue in a science related field in college. Turtles All the Way Down really made me process the moments in my present life more, and I will continue to do this throughout my career in college.

Life flies by in the blink of an eye, and I have realized it’s extremely important to take advantage of the present moments more often without worrying about the past or the future.

Averi’s Thoughts:

Reading Turtles All the Way Down gave me a whole new perspective on OCD. The way I had previously been exposed to this mental health illness left me with many misconceptions that this book proved wrong. OCD is often a term that gets thrown around just to imply that someone is a neat freak or has organized habits, but it is so much more than that. I knew that people affected by OCD couldn’t control their compulsions, but I never realized just how intrusive and destructive their thought process really is until reading from Aza’s perspective. I also never realized just how hard it can be to treat OCD. Even though Aza was medicated, she still struggled to live a normal life with her illness. She had to accept that this a condition that she will have to live with the rest of her life and adapt to its severity.

This book has changed the way I view OCD and how I will treat the people in my life who are affected by  it.

Lindsey’s Thoughts:

While reading Turtles All The Way Down this quarter, the main character is a girl who deals with major OCD. She obsessives over bacteria and everything that either enters or touches her body. Not having a personal experience, but having a cousin who deals with this issue. This book opened up my eyes to what people with a mental health issue deal with and now I understand what my cousin also goes through. Going into the real world on my own I am now going to see people who might deal with OCD or mental health issues and will know at least what they might be going through.

I want to support and be there for those people because it’s not easy, it’s a battle. Every thought or action can spiral all the way down onto the next for them. We all deal with battles in life, but we need to notice the people who struggle with mental health issues to be able to support them and lift them up on all the battles they face. Especially the people who surround you.

Fishing for Happiness and Success

This entry is part of a blog series. Student academic peer coaches were encouraged to write about their passions, interests, and beliefs. Recent Buffalo High School graduate and peer coach Wyatt Bombstad is the guest author of this post. We wish you much luck at St. Thomas Wyatt!

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, sky, cloud, child and outdoorI’m passionate about a lot of things but I think my passion for the outdoors rises above them all. I would chose this because its where I’m happiest and I spend most of my time. For me there’s nothing better then it because it reminds me so much of my early childhood, and it takes every bit of stress of my mind. Although I tell my mother that I test better after fishing that’s usually not true… but I sure feel a lot better about it beforehand!  

Having passions in high school is very important because they keep you calm and can get you through all of the tough parts in school. I think that everyone should find something they like doing so that they can have a distraction from the difficulties of life and just take a load off your dailey schedule.

I know that without my passion for the outdoors I would not be the same person, do the same activities, or have the same friends as I do now. That’s why I would recommend that everyone fits there niche for a passion because I’m convinced it will not only make you a better person, but a happier one.

Ariel Sacks…I couldn’t Agree More

This is a recent article written by middle school English teacher and author, Ariel Sacks. I first discovered Sacks and her book Whole Novel Approach when I was a second year English teacher teaching American Literature. The book was a game changer for me and led to much success with students being able to critically analyze and respond to a shared text without the teacher interrupting the students reading experience.

This article was feature in the Education Week Blog and gives clarity to why it is essential that our BHS Library Learning Commons has awesome books, technology and quality people to support teaching and learning.

Why School Librarians Are the Literacy Leaders We Need


Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how teams of teachers can work together across subject areas to improve student reading. I received comments on the piece from two school librarians, pointing out that they have important contributions to make to the effort, and questioning why I had not included school librarians in my suggestions in the first place. Well, they are absolutely right about this, and their voices prompted my reflection on the topic.

I’ve taught in four public schools in New York City and only ONE had a true functioning library with a certified librarian in it. Let me tell you, that one school library was small, but game changing, thanks to the wonderful work of the librarian, Leslie Gallager, and the wise choice to fund it by school leaders at Brooklyn Prospect.

When the school (which was new) created the library, I was not accustomed to having the resource of a school library or librarian, so it took me some time to figure out how to utilize it in my ELA class. Luckily, our librarian was quick to reach out to teachers, making it known she had resources and skills that could benefit our students and enrich our teaching, while at the same time making our work more manageable.

Skilled School Librarians Benefit Students & Teachers

Knowledge of Books:  One major way Leslie helped my students and me was with her vast knowledge of books, both fiction and non-fiction, classic and current. In the past, I had prided myself on knowing a wide range of great YA books, but when our librarian started showing me exciting new titles, I realized that I had not been keeping up as much as I once did. I could have beat myself up over this, but the truth was, I was busy reading student writing from my large load of students, and keeping up with teacher blogs and articles on teaching practices and education policy. I had slipped on a key aspect of my discipline–finding new books to feed my students’ reading interests–and my school’s librarian lifted me back up.

Over time, I got used to her being there to support my students and me to find books related to all kinds of interests. This aspect of my role as ELA teacher got easier and at the same time more exciting. Leslie opened the door to the reading world wider than I could do on my own.

Making Connections: Our school librarian helped students connect to reading and digital literacies in a variety of ways.  She found out what students were learning about in history and science class and found interesting reading materials to connect to those topics. She helped us bring local authors to visit to talk to students about their work. She helped students and teachers access periodicals and other helpful programs online.

I had the chance to talk on the phone with Dorcas Hand, one of the school librarians who commented on my earlier blog post. She’s now retired and runs a grassroots advocacy group in Houston, where the public schools of HISD are now seeing a great rise in available positions for school librarians.

Dorcas told me about one of the wonderful ways she connected with students’ writing–through an annual school-wide project called “History As Story.” In collaboration with English and Social Studies teachers, the project involved students in writing literary non-fiction on topics students had previously researched in their classes.  Each year, Dorcas brought a different non-fiction author to conduct master classes with the students. The students would write about their research topic novelistically, from the point of view of a person they had researched from the time period. By narrating an episode in that person’s life, they would reveal “the effect of the times on the person and the person on the times.”

Dorcas explained that one of the amazing things about this was that students went through the process each year from fourth through eighth grade, each time with different topics and different authors guiding their work. “It was phenomenal to see the quality of students’ writing in this genre by eighth grade,” she said.

As a teacher, this example highlights one of the key benefits of having a highly skilled school librarian–they are in the position to influence and support the culture of reading and writing across a school. Can this project be done by an individual teacher? Yes. But it’s something different when one person with a vision and the time to implement it leads it consistently for the entire school, every year.

There is a cumulative benefit to students and teachers, both academic and cultural, when a school librarian becomes a literacy leader.

Can Classroom Libraries Replace School Libraries?

Maintaining a school library is another task that positions librarians as literacy leaders. Classroom libraries maintained by teachers are wonderful and essential–this is not an either/or argument. But when we cut school librarians and rely solely on teachers to curate classroom libraries we open the door to several problems I have experienced first hand, and close the door to other key benefits:

  • The first issue is manageability. It takes a tremendous amount of work to maintain a vibrant classroom library. Continually researching books, doing the advocacy and paperwork to get copies of new books ordered, keeping them organized and appealingly laid out, managing check out and return processes (even when students are in charge, this is still a responsibility for the teacher), and so forth is challenging. While some schools take measures to support teachers in doing this, most often it takes time we don’t really have. That means we either don’t do a great job, or we do it at the expense of something else we are supposed to do, or we work unsustainable hours (and as the data shows, eventually leave the classroom, along with that great classroom library).
  • The second issue is consistency and, consequently, equity. When we leave this work to individual teachers, the results will vary by classroom and grade level. Teachers will prioritize differently. Students will have years where the classroom library is amazing and other years where there may be virtually no classroom library. Some libraries may feature a range of books with diverse characters–others won’t. Who ensures an equitable experience for students across a school? Maybe a literacy coach can effectively do this, but again, coaches are charged with a number of responsibilities and their focus will vary. A librarian can make access to books a priority every day.
  • Another issue is space. Just as there are huge benefits to having classroom libraries, where teachers can facilitate students’ exploration of book choices in an immediate, hands on way, there are special benefits, too, of a designated library space. Dorcas explained that the library becomes a place where many students feel at home, especially when they might not elsewhere in the school. I remember seeing this happen for a number of my students, and I remember being one of those students myself. I spent study halls in middle school and high school in the school library, and it was a needed haven. For students who don’t have internet or computer access at home, the library can be a crucial after school and summer support. (Check out this Middleweb article on how school libraries can slow down the summer reading slide.)
  • Finally, having someone other than their teacher to recommend books to students is also valuable. Children and adolescents need multiple models and influencers when it comes to reading, and a school librarian has the added advantage of being able to cultivate those relationships with students over a number of years.

In New York City and across the country–but especially in urban schools–school libraries staffed with certified librarians have become harder and harder to find. I assume that’s because cutting them can seem like a viable way to stretch a limited budget and maximize often crowded school facilities. If student achievement is the goal, though, then this option is neither positive nor pragmatic. Research shows a strong correlation between the presence of a certified school librarian and student achievement. Just because many of us haven’t had the privilege of working with a school librarian recently, let’s not forget how important they are. Let’s recognize vibrant school libraries as a key component of a quality education–one that benefits students and teachers alike.

What to Look for on a College Tour

This entry is part of a blog series. Student academic peer coaches were encouraged to write about their passions, interests, and beliefs. Senior peer coach Grace Eiden is the guest author of this post.

This past fall, I toured five colleges in hopes to find the right fit for me. While on my first tour at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, I got so caught up in the excitement of going off on a new adventure by myself that I didn’t really pay attention to the details on campus. After touring four other campuses, I learned that there are important aspects to pay attention to in order to ensure that you choose a college that fits all of your personal needs.

While on a college tour, it’s important to pay attention to the size of the campus and what makes you most comfortable. Some people prefer big campuses in the city, and others prefer small campuses in a cozy town. That being said, it is really important to not only get a feel for the campus itself, but the community around it. Take a walk around the downtown area of the college town and see what it has to offer such as things like movie theatres, restaurants, or anywhere you would like to spend free time away from all the studying.

Another important thing to look for on a college tour is the dorms. While on my tours, I didn’t pay much attention to the various places to live. When the time came to choose my top dorm rooms, I needed to solely rely on youtube videos and ratings that I found online since I didn’t pay much attention in person. It’s also important to search out places that you find good for studying while on campus. Do you prefer to stay strictly in the library, or branch out to various coffee shops? Pay attention to the different areas and buildings that are options for studying on the daily.

The last, and most important thing, to look for on a college tour is making sure you can really picture yourself in that specific atmosphere. Deciding on a college is a very big decision, and you need to know that you will feel safe and comfortable on campus. Touring colleges is a very exciting point in your life, so make sure to take advantage of the tours and pay attention to all of the aspects that lie on a college campus!

Living Like Zach Sobiech

This entry is part of a blog series. Student academic peer coaches were encouraged to write about their passions, interests, and beliefs. Senior peer coach Ashley Cordt is the guest author of this post.

“You don’t have to find out you’re dying to start living.” – Zach Sobiech

Words from a 17-year-old who battled Osteosarcoma, a boy who proved living like you’re dying will change your life and the lives around you.

Zach had a passion for music. He used it as a way to express himself, it was his way of letting people know he is okay. Zach wrote songs for closure, giving people in his life something to lean on when he was gone. He truly started living through his music. Zach learned

Life can be so fulfilling and rewarding when we choose to live like we’re dying. Zach found his passion. He began to live through his music–allowing him to express his true feelings and make an impact. I want to take that into my own life. Here’s the idea: start living our most passionate life. It starts with us finding our passions and letting our real selves be seen. It’s a battle from within that won’t easily be won. Living fearless and chasing our dreams is not an easy commitment, but it guides us to living our best lives. Like Zach said, we don’t have to find out we are dying to start living.

The Earth without Art is Just Eh

This entry is part of a blog series. Student academic peer coaches were encouraged to write about their passions, interests, and beliefs. Senior peer coach Mataya Calva is the guest author of this post.

Art is a deep form of communication and entertainment, many things today are only here because of art.

I am passionate about art because it has allowed me to express myself visually, rather than with my words alone.

I love art because it can be interpreted and created in many different ways by people of every background.

Art is anything you make it.