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PPL Brings Family Literacy Specialist Aboard

Warmest greetings to you, our People of PPL!

With the light at the end of the renovation tunnel approaching and a grand opening event on the horizon, we have additional exciting news!

Potsdam Public Library is pleased to officially announce Maria Morrison as PPL’s new Family Literacy Specialist.

Long-time educator and PPL Literacy Is For Everyone (LIFE) staffer Maria Morrison is now taking over as the library’s Family Literacy Specialist.

If you have been following us on our YouTube page, Facebook Page, or Instagram page, you might have seen Maria doing a read-aloud of Iggy Peck, Architect, while appropriately surrounded by all the renovation equipment on our library floor and pop-up storytimes in the parks to the tots of our community. She’s fun like that and is going to bring a lot to our programming for families. 

As part of her storytimes with families, Maria said she made little reading quilts so everybody can maintain sufficient distance during the pandemic, but the quilts also bring in that concept of connection to children, she said.

“What in your quilt is similar to the person sitting next to you?” she said. “Do you share a piece? Do you share a pattern in your quilt? Do you share blues? Do you share flowers? And so you can create a community that way, where the quilts bring you into a learning process of colors, a learning process of patterns, but also a connection process.”

PPL Director Annie Davey said Maria has boundless energy and is passionate about literacy for everyone, from babies to grandparents and everyone in between. 

“She had been single-handedly stocking hundreds of little free libraries (which we call Shelfies), getting books into people’s hands wherever they are, in waiting rooms and gas stations, all over northern NY and even into Vermont,” Annie said. “One of my favorite things about Maria is how she inspires people. Hearing someone say, ‘I’m just not good at learning, I’ve never been any good at math, you’re wasting your time with me,’ her response is, ‘Well, I saw you walk in here today. You didn’t start out knowing how to walk. You learned that, and you can learn this too.’ And with small steps forward, her students build confidence. It changes how they see themselves.”

“I’m so excited that we get to channel her enthusiasm and her sense of fun into our PPL Kids programming,” she said.

Maria also brings a broad teaching experience and has worked with kids from birth to 18 years of age. She has been working with the library since 2016 where she started with Literacy of Northern New York. When Literacy for Northern New York pulled out of St. Lawrence County, Maria was hired by PPL as a library employee under LIFE: Literacy is for Everyone. 

“In 2015 I started working for Literacy of Northern New York and when they decided to stop funding the St. Lawrence County portion of Literacy of Northern New York, the library graciously said, ‘hey, we need to have literacy in Potsdam, not just in St. Lawrence County.’ That was in 2016, so we set up LIFE, Literacy is for Everyone, and put up our own umbrella and started pulling things in.”

That included Literacy, ESL (English as a Second Language), Adult Learning, and kids. 

Maria became program manager for L.I.F.E. and, among her duties, taught classes. Then she went back to teaching full time. 

“So my job fell back to a part-time position and Bobby Gordon came in and was handling training tutors, matching people up, testing people to see where they were and then I walked back out, again, from teaching in 2018 and said, ‘I don’t really want to do that anymore.’

Then, PPL Public Service Manager Sarah Sachs contacted her to become our family literacy person?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely. You are going to pay me to read to kids? I am on board!’”

Maria has been doing pop-up storytimes in parks around Potsdam when she not only reads to kids and their parents but sings songs and teaches kids how to connect through her storytime quilts.

But Maria will be doing a whole lot more than reading to kids, and even focusing on children alone, Sarah said. 

“Maria’s practice is meant to promote children’s literacy in a very purposeful and research-based way, as is our adult program, and since we initiated LIFE, we have been wanting to more and more do stuff for families, adults and children together, and so that’s something that Maria does particularly well,” Sara said.

In addition to PPL’s traditional programs for children like baby times, storytimes, a summer reading program, and Battle of the Books, there will also be a family piece, so that parents can learn a lot about helping their children with their literacy and have fun at the same time.

Maria said literacy is intergenerational and it needs to be addressed as such.

“If there are no books in the house, then children don’t read and parents don’t read,” Maria said. “So pulling parents in, even at the level of reading to children, is going to add to that literacy level for those children.”

And there are a lot of stigmas attached, she added.

“Parents who don’t read well don’t want to read to their kids,” she said. “They don’t want their kids to get beyond them, but that needs to be addressed and we need to address it as a family crisis because that’s what it is. It’s not just that the kids don’t read well or the parents don’t read well, if the whole family is not reading well, then you are raising generations of people who aren’t able to function as well as they should be in society.”

So keeping that family connection and that community connection going is really the heart of family literacy.