Ragin' Cajun adds spice

Soldotna Middle School librarian keeps busy with job, volunteer work

Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2003

The Soldotna Middle School library was appropriately quiet Monday afternoon, but Terry Myrick was anything but still.

Keeping one eye peeled on a student completing a test in the corner, the spry older woman bustled from task to task, helping a teacher schedule class time in the library, renewing a book for a young girl, wrapping up details from a weekend fund-raiser and helping a group of students prepare for a reading competition.

Such is the life of a school librarian.

"There is no typical day," Myrick laughed, when asked to describe her duties. "I could not describe a typical day."

Myrick, a petite woman with a lighthearted but simultaneously no-nonsense attitude and occasional Cajun dialect, has been the librarian at Soldotna Middle School for the past 11 years.

It's a job she loves, but one she fears for.

'She's our moral support. She's wonderful.'

-- Trafford Evanoff, SMS eighth-grader on librarian Terry Myrick

Like many positions in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Myrick's job is slated to be eliminated next year due to budget constraints. She said she currently is listed as "unassigned" for the coming school year.

Originally from southern Louisiana, the woman known as the "ragin' Cajun" to friends, students and coworkers admits school librarian is hardly her first career.

"I've done a few things before this," she laughed.

First, Myrick studied nursing, but quit after she got married and started having her five children.


Terry Myrick

In Louisiana, she and her husband drilled water wells.

A little later in life, after two of her kids had left the nest and she and her husband had divorced, she went back to school to study education, earning master's degrees and certification as a K-12 principal, school librarian, speech specialist and superintendent, all after the age of 40.

She moved her family to Missouri, where she got a job as a librarian in the Blue Eye School District on the Missouri-Arkansas state line. The job paid $6,000 a year, and she supplemented her income by playing Ma Hatfield at a family theme park.

She changed jobs a few times after that, serving as principal and athletic director in a couple other school districts in Missouri. But, she said, she always dreamed of coming to Alaska.

In 1984, she made that dream come true, moving up north with one of her daughters, who is a school teacher. The pair attended a job fair in Fairbanks and wound up with positions in the Yukon Flats School District. Myrick was the principal, and her daughter was a teacher.

"I was her principal for four years," Myrick recalled. "She said I was harder on her than the others, but I knew she was a good teacher."

A few years later, Myrick moved on to the Yupait School District, before landing a job with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. She spent 1990 to 1992 as an administrator in Tyonek, then came to her current post as librarian at Soldotna Middle School.

It's no easy job, Myrick said.

As the title might suggest, a school librarian has to be both a lib-rarian and an educator.

Myrick is responsible for the typical library science-type activities, such as ordering, cataloging and checking out books, as well as scheduling the use of the facilities. She also is responsible for teaching students about research methods and technology, using resources like World Book Online, computer-based card catalogs and the Internet. And she helps teachers supplement their curriculum.

She also arranges for authors to visit the school to talk to students and helps organize schoolwide literacy events, like Love of Reading week and Read 2002.

And, of course, she promotes reading on an individual level as well.

"In middle school, we start to lose readers," she said. "We need to maintain the enthusiasm for reading and expose them to good selections."

In part, that means stocking the shelves with popular, quality books. But it also means working one-on-one with students.

"It's just turning kids on to the right book, giving direction," Myrick explained. "Some kids will come in, and I'll ask what kind of books they like. They'll say, 'I don't know.'

"So I ask what other things they like: 'Do you like skateboarding? I think you'll like this book.'

"It's getting the right questions."

And, she said, it's fun.

In addition to the contracted duties of her job, Myrick also spends a great deal of time volunteering for and with students.

She works with the school's After the Bell program, which provides after-school tutoring and other educational programs, and just last weekend cooked a Cajun dinner for about 250 people at a fund-raiser for the program.

"I couldn't even reach one of the pots, it was so big," she laughed. "I don't know if I got anything out of it except sore feet. But I don't mind, it's all for the kids."

One of her favorite volunteer activities -- and one she was working on Monday afternoon, like almost every day for the past several months -- is the Battle of the Books.

The Alaska Association of School Librarians sponsors the annual competition and Myrick is a strong advocate of the endeavor.

"We don't have to coach ourselves, but a lot of us do," she said.

Aided by fellow volunteer coaches, Myrick spends months preparing for the competition, even before the students join up.

"I order the books and read all summer to write practice questions long before they come out from the district," she said.

Then, she helps the students prepare for the competition, hosting lunch hour practice sessions to drill them with questions, all in the name of reading and fun, of course.

"It's part of getting kids excited about reading," she said.

Clearly, she's doing a good job.

After reading and reviewing the proscribed 12 books for the competition, the five high-energy team members -- including eighth-graders Trafford Evanoff, Sam Kilfoyle and Ashley Myers and seventh-graders Elora Hammer and Kahlia McDermott -- stomped their rivals at the district contest earlier this month. Today, they will face the other winners from around the state.

The team has high expectations to meet. Soldotna Middle School has placed first in the seventh- and eighth-grade level of the district competition six years in a row, including this year. The school has gone on to win the state title for the past five years.

Luckily, they said, they have Myrick on their side.

"She's our moral support," said Evanoff. "She's wonderful."

Unfortunately, Myrick said she doesn't know what will happen with Battle of the Books -- or any of the other programs and services she offers -- once she's gone.

"I've been here 11 years. I'm concerned what's going to happen. The teachers are concerned, even the kids are concerned," she said, explaining that she worries more for the state of the school than for her own job security.

"Once you lose it, you don't ever get it back."

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