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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chumey M.S.S Primary Library

When I reached Chumey M.S.S I was shocked to discover that apart from teaching English, I would also be a librarian for kindergarten to sixth grade.  When my principal informed me, I nervously gasped, “What? I was told that I was going to be teaching math and science.  No one told me that I was going to be a librarian.  I don’t have any real experience being a librarian.”  However, I was no match to crush my principal’s wish; he had a plan to make a library just for the primary students (k-6), whereby I would be in charge of.  He shared with me his concern that majority of Bhutanese students didn’t read outside of school.  Therefore, he wanted me to inspire them to form good reading habits at a young age, so they would grow up to be adults who love to read.  He gave me no guidelines, but reassured me that he would support whatever I came up with as long as I motivated the students to read.  I wasn’t sure how I was going to do this and I was left stunned.  I had no idea that this would be the most perfect job for me, as I would come to love being a librarian and the library would end up being me my little contribution to the young Chumey students.

In the beginning, since there wasn’t yet a primary library to take the students to because it was being built, I dug through piles of books to take to the students’ classroom for library period.  At first, it felt more like a reading period than a library period.  There weren’t enough books for the kinders and first graders, so they would share and sometimes fight over them.  I would get creative and have them copy the print in their notebooks so they could practice reading on their own and I would make up my own stories on the board. 

Sharing a book
I viewed library period in their class as a time to prep them for a new functioning library.  I always started off by teaching them a few songs with hand movements to elicit a happy mood.  Then I would do a read aloud while modeling a new skill, such as how to predict using pictures.  Finally, they would read books at their tables while practicing the new skill.  Lastly, I would wrap it up with one last song and as I walked away, I always heard them still cheerfully singing in the distance, “The wheels on the bus go round and round…” 

They didn’t seem to mind that library period was conducted in their class with a few books and they were just happy to sing, listen to me read and then get their hands on a book.  It was a fun period for them and when they kinders would see me coming with books they never failed to chant, “Miss Sabrina, Miss Sabrina...” while jumping up and down in excitement and disturbing the entire primary block.  It didn’t matter what age they were, they loved to be read to. 

Meanwhile an empty classroom in the primary section was being ripped apart to replace the floors and walls to become the new library.  One day I stuck my head in to have a peak and felt a little nauseous at how they would ever finish.  Every week the workers would tell me one more week, and I was worried that I would never get a library to take the children to.

The finished library
Finally, when the new library was finished with new bookcases and benches, I was so excited because I knew that my real work would soon snowball into something beautiful beyond anyone’s expectations.  I was struck with a vision: a bright colorful library so divine that the students would beg me to let them in to read.  I believe that one’s environment sets the tone for learning; a clean, heavenly place inspires learning and gives off good vibes.  I also had two grand plans to encourage reading:  my first plan was to set up a system where students (3rd to 6th grade) for the first time in Chumey history would be able to checkout a book to take home so they could practice reading.  Most students don’t have a collection of books at home or even one book.  My second idea was to implement an afterschool buddy-reading period. 

It took weeks to carry out my vision with tons of helping hands.  First, I donated five buckets of paint: a sweet pale pink and baby blue.  Numerous students and some staff members painted layers upon layers for weeks; blue walls with pink trimming.  When it was finished the only thing we could do was say: WOW!  It was the most alive place in the school. 

Next, it was months of decorating and organizing.  Putting together the library became a bonding time with my fifth graders, as they were my biggest supporters spending countless hours after school helping me.  Together we made over a hundred colorful stars taping them on the ceiling and we pasted numerous posters on the wall. They were in love with the new beauty of the library and they referred to it as a temple. 

Additionally, my fifth graders became more than students; they became mini-librarians.  I taught them how to look at the print of a book to categorize it by grade level in order to put it on the designated shelf.   They would shine with confidence when I asked them their opinions, “Do you think this book should go on the fourth grade shelf or fifth grade shelf?”  They spent so much time helping me organize all the books that they became protective over the library and would get upset if they found that a younger student put a book on the wrong shelf.  They thought of the library as their second classroom!  

In fact, they cared for the library so much that I even entrusted them with the library key when I went to the capital to reach my parent’s.  When I returned, I learned they spent hours of their free time reading books in the library and I found everything exactly in place.  They even surprised me by hanging more stars.

I carried out my library period in a similar manner as I used to do in their classroom.  I greeted them at the door, they sat down on the floor ready to sing a happy song and enjoy a read aloud.  However, after the read aloud, I let them freely roam around their designated bookcases to checkout a book to take home and practice reading.  

We had no fancy computers or gadgets to check out the books.  Instead, I taught the students how to independently run the library on their own, so I could spend more time helping students read and teaching them knew strategies.  Also I wanted them to be able to run the library in case there was a day I wasn’t able to be there.  So when the students were ready to check out a book, the class captain or any available student would write the title of the book the student wanted to checkout as well as the book record number in the library notebook next to the student’s role number.  Upon returning the books, they would line up in role order, show me their book while I referred back to the record notebook to make sure it was the correct one.  Lastly, the class captains quickly checked the returned books to make sure none were damaged (the thought of somebody checking the books for damage, made the students take good care of their books).  It was an old fashioned check out system, but it worked.

Before releasing them to check out books, I would go over the five-finger rule:  To help them figure out if a book they wanted was too difficult or easy, they would read a random page and for each word they didn't know, they would put up one finger.  If they got to four-five fingers, the book was too hard and they would search for another one. If they got to two-three fingers, they could check out the book, but if they got zero to one finger, then it was too easy and again they would search for a different book.  They usually didn’t have too much difficulty finding a book that was just right, because each bookcase was labeled with a grade level.  There were even bookshelves for fairytales, fables, a teacher corner, but the students favorite bookcase was the “book hospital.”  

The book hospital was a shelf for students to place books that needed some kind of repair so that I could fix them.  They thought it was funny to have a book hospital for “hurt” books and they referred to me as the Book Doctor.  Although it was my fifth graders who loved to fix the books and they were the real Book Doctors (thanks kidos).   

All the students loved taking books home and they rarely forgot their books.  If a student did forget their book, they were required to write me a short letter about why they forgot their book and when they would bring it back.  Then they would usually return it the next day and only then would they be allowed to check out another book.  I only had four students out of nearly a hundred who lost their book and they immediately replaced the book while sympathetically apologizing. 

All in all, the primary library was a new phenomenon at Chumey M.S.S and I feel so grateful that my principal nudged me to be a part of it.  It turned out to be one of my favorite experiences in Bhutan.  I have no doubt that it instilled a new love for reading in the students.  For instance, I would see students reading under trees during lunch with their friends and sometimes I would see them in their classroom reading while they waited for their next teacher.  Once a student even told me that he couldn’t return his book because his mom wanted to finish reading it too.  I learned that the students went home and shared their books with their family, often reading to little siblings or their older siblings would take their book to read to them.  I believe that Chumey students will mature into book loving adults.

After-School Buddy Reading

6th graders and 4th graders reading to each other
To really inspire the students to read their library  books they checked out, I created an extra short period on Fridays for an afterschool budding-reading (3rd-6th grade).  Third grade boys and fifth grade boys would buddy-read to each other in one classroom while third grade girls and fifth grade girls read to each other in another classroom.  In the same way, fourth grade buddied up with sixth grade.  All in all, I had four classrooms of students reading to each other and since it was my creation, I was the only teacher on duty.  Fortunately, the girls were extremely responsible and they only required a quick walk around to make sure everyone was busy reading to each other.  On the other hand, the boys tended to be less enthusiastic, so I spent more time in their classrooms encouraging them to read.  Eventually, I realized that I could benefit with more support for supervising four classrooms (about 100 students), so I recruited two of my best ninth graders to supervise the boys while I supervised the girls. 
A 5th grader buddy reading to her 3rd grade buddies

Buddy Reading
Overall, It ran smoothly and I loved watching the students read to each other.  They would often practice at home because they would want to impress their buddies with their reading.  It was cute!  I also had modeled to the fifth graders and sixth graders how to help their younger buddy by chunking hard words and how to ask their little buddies questions about the story to check for comprehension.  It was an honor watching them act like little teachers and I felt good knowing that something magical had occurred at the school; students were forming good habits of reading and helping each other.  I’m really going to miss library and reading period!

Painting Time
The first blue wall 

Painting the windowsills and trims pink

Pink Hands
Hanging Stars
Decorating Time

Hanging Posters
Organizing Books

Making Labels

Our Welcome Sign!!!
Glueing boarders

Books Everywhere; trying to sort them out by grade level

Team work!  Everyone has a job and is working hard
Thank you girls
My Sweet Sunday Helpers 
Choose a book
Half way done
We are done!
My mini-librarians 

We Love the Chumey M.S.S Primary Library




  1. Aww this is so sweet and nice of you Sabrina to go that extra mile. Really appreciated, and CMSS is really blessed to have you.

    God bless you and your family and the students in awesome ways!

    1. Thanks! It was so much FUN! I really enjoyed it.


  2. Wow Sabrina! Thank you so much - it was very special to see the poster welcoming us! You and your team of helpers have created such a beautiful library. I know two little boys who will feel right at home there and all my worries of having no books to read to them are completely unfounded! I am really excited to take up the challenge of thinking of ways to inspire the students to love reading, and of course will try to keep your buddy reading going too. Well done!!!

    1. The students are really excited to show you the library. I think that you are really going to enjoy being a librarian. It's so much FUN! Also the students are really looking forward to the DVDs and new books. You're amazing!

  3. Sabrina,and all the students who helped with the library you all did a wonderful job.You and the students must feel so proud of yourselves everytime you walk in the library to see it painted so colorful,organized and completed.When I was there I noticed how the children were very happy in the library.How excited they were to be able to pick a book and check it out.I saw how much joy the library gives them and how helpful the girls were on the system you got going , writing who is checking out what book.I loved the library too ! although they need more books I wished I could have filled my suitcases with only books. Only wishful thinking! Great job little helpers love Mom.Dad loved the library also.

    1. Again, thanks for the decorations and the books. The decorations really gave the library some spunk! It's so pretty and spent my last days in the library with my students. xoxo

  4. Dear sabrina,

    How inspiring and wonderful it was to read your blog. Chumey MSS, being my alma mater, made me all the more intrigued and interested to read through all your posts. I studied in Chumey for 11 fruitful years. Reading then, was not quite as popular as it is now but I still remember reading quite a good number of authors there. What you've done and contributed to the reading culture of students from my community is beyond words. I thank you for all that you've given to Chumey MSS. I am sure it will remain forever etched in the eternal memory of the school.

    Best Regards,

    1. Sangay,

      Wow you are so lucky to have studied in such a beautiful environment for such a long time. I'm currently traveling around India and at times, I miss the beauty of Chumey.

      I love how Chumey makes me feel so connected to people who also live/lived in Chumey. It's like they get what I'm trying to describe.

      Take care and thanks for your lovely words. Maybe I will see you in Thimphu one day.