Teacher-librarian Veronica Allan wins Cowichan's first award for lifetime achievement

Teacher-librarian Veronica Allan eased into summer with this year’s Val Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award from the B.C. Teacher-Librarian Association, perhaps the highest honour the association bestows upon its members. - courtesy Bonner school
Teacher-librarian Veronica Allan eased into summer with this year’s Val Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award from the B.C. Teacher-Librarian Association, perhaps the highest honour the association bestows upon its members.
— image credit: courtesy Bonner school

Reading raises one's IQ.

Valley teacher-librarian Veronica Allan is a kids' guide to those lifelong smarts.

Her special way of sparing the reading rod, and spoiling children with books they enjoy, earned Allan this year's Val Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award form the B.C. Teacher-Librarian Association.

"I encourage struggling readers by helping them find books they can read, and gradually move to harder books until they feel successful with reading.

"I match them with books to do with their interests — if they're interested in BMX bikes, I get them reading about that."

It's believed Allan is the first Cowichan teacher to win the coveted Hamilton honour saluting teacher-librarians who make outstanding contributions to their profession, and to school libraries.

"I'm beyond thrilled," the mother of two sons said.

"I go to BCTL conferences, and see people win these awards, but never expected one year it would be me."

Her Hamilton was announced by principal Heidi Grant during Bonner's awards night June 26.

"I didn't have a clue. Heidi had a call that afternoon saying I'd won the award," she said of the peer-nominated kudo.

Allan, 60, started as a teacher-librarian in 1997 at Mount Brenton (now closed), then shifted to Somenos (now closed), then to Discovery elementary, then to George Bonner (formerly a middle school, turning elementary).

"I only went into teaching at age 44," said the holder of a UVic education degree, and a UBC certificate in teacher-librarianship.

"I love my job; I have the best job in the world. I get to promote literacy by making the library a friendly, welcoming place, and making children love coming in."

"I help kids wade through and access the enormous amount of material on the internet — and how not to plagiarize."

Allan's also avid about supplying teachers with timely classroom materials, teaching researching methods to pupils, "and promoting school-library use to students, teachers, parents and the board of trustees."

But there's a warp to Cowichan's school-library card, explains apolitical Allan.

"In Cowichan we've had one teacher-librarian in each school. Next year I'll be doing Discovery and Bonner that used to each have one.

"The (pupil enrolment) has decreased, but not to the point where we have one teacher-librarian for two schools."

If students don't have a teacher-librarian guiding them in their research, "they won't have required skills for adult life to assess what they're reading, and to know if it's accurate."

And reading shouldn't take summer holidays. "Teachers spend lots of time catching kids up in September; some kids have no books at home."

Fostering literacy through library use is paramount in Allan's book.

"The library should be the hub of any school."

But reading resources are imbalanced in Cowichan, she noted.

"In middle and high schools, we get the resources we need — elementary schools, tend to have and have-not schools.

"Schools with strong (parent advisory committees) give money to the school, but some schools don't have PACs."

Allan's message to Premier Christy Clark? "It's been proven in scientific studies schools with a qualified teacher-librarian, and a library that's open, are indicators of student successes, but Cowichan Valley school libraries are closed half the time," Allan said of tight budgets.

"Teacher-librarians here do a fantastic job, with the time they have promoting literacy and increasing kids' reading levels," stressed Allan.

Pupils' page prowess improves with access to youth authors, especially from island and valley wordsmiths.

"I read young adults' books. They're fantastic," she said citing John Wilson, Jacquie Pearce, illustrator Dean Griffiths, Sarah Harvey, Michelle Mulder, Mike Deas, and Susan Juby.

"We promote anything that helps kids love reading — if they don't love reading, they won't do it.

Electronic versus paper books? "It's all reading, but (books) have got to be available.

"I get kids excited about a story, so they get hooked then read others in the series," she said, praising the monster Harry Potter series and other strings of stories.

"Many kids see the movie, then want to read the book," said Allan, a fan of books by Ken Follett and Jonas Jonasson.

"I watch children learn to love reading, and it doesn't get better than that."

Allan will receive her Hamilton award in October in Haney, B.C., at the BCTLA's annual conference.


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