PfISD librarian wins state innovation award
August 29, 2019
What started as a way to impact her own campus has sparked innovation at other school districts in the state, and for Murchison Elementary School Librarian Jennifer Coleman that means her idea is resonating with students beyond Pflugerville.
Coleman received the Demco Upstart Library Innovation Award at the Texas Library Association annual conference in April for her Ride and Read Program after she installed reading desks with bicycle pedals on them.
“The kids could not believe it. When they came, oh my gosh, there were lines for days,” Coleman said. “It was the most exciting thing. That’s when kids started working in their classrooms to earn extra passes so they could come and do their math homework on it.”
The bikes came from a company called Action Based Learning that offers a wide variety of products designed to add physical activity to usually sedentary activities.
Coleman wrote a grant proposal to the Pflugerville Education Foundation in coordination with Murchison’s PE teacher Docia Craft and special ed teachers and was awarded $5,000. That was enough to buy five desks at Murchison. Four are in the library and one is in the SpEd room.
The idea first came to Coleman when she read a news article about Clemson University installing bikes in its library. Students surveyed said they believed the bikes helped them learn better and were beneficial. That’s when Coleman discovered Action Based Learning and began writing her proposal.
From there the program has taken off as the impact was seen immediately on campus as students spent their “Mustang Dollars” to earn extra reading time in the library. Now because of her innovation award, librarians from across the state have heard about Ride and Read and other schools and districts are asking about the reading bikes. She even helped a librarian from Hutto ISD write a grant to receive funds for reading bikes in her library.
“I love that it’s sprinkled out when it didn’t exist in this district before. That makes me really proud,” Coleman said. “All the awards are really cool, but the real day-to-day impact is what I care most about. Because why not? There are cool things out there to help kids learn.”
By requiring students to sign in with an iPad, Coleman is able to collect data about who is using the bikes and the data is revealing.
The bikes are popular across all grade levels. There is an even distribution among boys and girls, and she is noticing that students with special needs or learning disabilities are having their needs met and are reading more than they were before.
One student in particular stood out to Coleman.
Cooper Lebakken, now a sixth-grader at Kelly Lane Middle School, was a fourth-grader with dyslexia when the bikes first came to school. Last year as a fifth-grader he celebrated reaching his Accelerated Reader goal for a second straight year – something he had never done before the bikes.
Lebakken would be waiting at the door, “nose to the glass” every morning waiting to sign in and do his 20 minutes of reading homework on the bikes.
“It’s just a better way to learn,” Lebakken said. “It’s like my stress reliever. Books and biking are like one of the best stress relievers. The book takes your mind away from the things happening around you and then all the anger gets put into pedaling.”
Lebakken then shocked his parents when he said he wanted a reading bike at home to do his homework on.
A student who had not enjoyed reading before, was now reading more than ever and found something that clicked for him. His parents found another brand of reading bike that was less expensive and told Cooper they would match his birthday money. After spending his own birthday money on a reading bike, his parents then sent pictures to Coleman of him reading and doing his homework on his new bike.
“That was one of my favorite moments because it just worked for him,” Coleman said. “He got over the hump. I don’t know what he thought, but once he had permission to move and read in a different way, he made his reading goal.”
Lebakken remembers seeing the bikes the first day they were in the library. He knew immediately it would be something that would get him excited about reading because it provided a different type of outlet for him.
“I was really excited. I was looking around seeing if anybody else noticed it because those things looked more active to read. You’re exercising on a bike and it’s just fun,” he said. “When you add an activity to reading the book, it makes you feel like you’re part of the book.”
As the new school year gets underway, it shouldn’t take new students at Murchison long to find the most popular spot in school – the corner of the library with the reading bikes.
Seeing how much impact the program has made at Murchison and other districts in the area now has motivated Coleman to seek out more ways to implement active learning in the library. She has a goal to win one of the $25,000 grants offered by Action Based Learning.
But it’s knowing that her idea worked for even just one student that keeps her going and wanting to make an even bigger impact.
“It just takes one person having an idea and seeing that it’s good and then sharing it out. That’s all it takes. Think of how much positive impact you could have just for trying something crazy,” Coleman said. “That’s why I get up every day and do what I do. Who knows if there’s another Cooper out there?”