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Emily Blahous, Technology Facilitator, Mirror Lake Middle School
By Claire Mayo

"To get kids into the library is a minor victory; to get them to read is another thing," says Emily Blahous. "But I think if they're in the environment it might tantalize them a little bit and motivate them to read." Emily says she would love to campaign for friendlier libraries, with couches, with longer hours, with more fun things to do.

Emily is the Technology Facilitator at Mirror Lake Middle School, and in charge of more than just getting kids into the library. From training seventh graders in news broadcasting skills, to getting sixth graders excited about reading, to teaching the links between music and math, to serving as "technology guru" for the school's network of 250 computers, Emily Blahous is on the go and in demand.

Emily Blahous
With her degree in music education from University of Illinois, Emily also teaches piano keyboarding class for sixth graders. She has about twenty-eight students each year, and when they arrive in class the first day, they know very little. "What we strive for," says Emily, "is to bring music into their lives and teach and demonstrate how much music is aligned with math and the soul and the spirit -- it is a lot of fun." By teaching music history, theory and appreciation, Emily helps mold real musicians. In May students read music and perform several pieces at a recital.

Emily began teaching after getting certified at various colleges for k-8 education. She has taught in Illinois and Washington State and most recently fifth grade at Birchwood Elementary. So how did the Chicago native arrive in Alaska?

Emily's husband was transferred to Alaska with the military in 1980. At the time she wanted him to get out of the assignment, but she agreed to make the trek and eventually fell in love with Alaska even more than he did.

Though Emily doesn't have a degree in technology, she has had numerous courses to keep up with what is current. She says she just loves her work and the every-day problem solving that comes from solely running an entire school's network of computers. "They [the computers' are never always perfect -- it is a monumental job. I am totally supportive of the staff from getting an ink cartridge to working with ‘my computers' off the network!' Really, most of my knowledge is from experience."

Experience is what her morning class is all about. Emily teaches a team of seventh graders the skills of running a news program. Students must apply and be accepted for the class. Throughout the entire year the seven students rotate between cameraperson, anchor, director/producer, assistant producer, and TelePrompTer operator so they learn each aspect of the newsroom. The class gives students discipline in writing and speaking skills as well as computer literacy. Plus it is fun for the kids to see themselves on the daily news show broadcast in each classroom.

"We try to mimic a real TV station," says Emily. Channel 11 is in partnership with Mirror Lake and each year sends out an anchor to visit the news team and discuss ways to present themselves in front of the camera. The students also get a chance to visit Channel 11 -- a highlight of the class.

The 2000-2001 Newsroom Team at Mirror Lake Middle School.

Computer technology is important for today's youth, but nothing, in Emily's mind, beats reading. A few years ago she started a reading program at Mirror Lake during the lunch hour. For an alternative to the lunchroom, sixth graders could bring their lunches into the library and sit on tablecloths spread on the floor while Emily read aloud. "I think the way to get boys and girls hooked into reading is to read to them and to read with animation -- to be an actor up there and make it fun [and' enjoyable, and that, as far as I'm concerned, is what books are all about."

Last year Emily read Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (her all-time favorite author) -- she and the kids dressed up like Huck and even taped out the measurement of the raft. "Anything," she says, "to bring a story to life."

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