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Carroll County Times
Carroll County Education

As librarian of East Middle School in Westminster, Michael Stencil inspires students and fellow teachers

Whether he’s producing a silly parody video starring fellow East Middle School staff pretending to be the “Eastie Boys,” running the after school program he developed to make reading more engaging for students, or helping other county schools with technology challenges, Michael Stencil goes above and beyond in his job as East Middle School’s librarian.

That’s why Stencil, 45, of Manchester, was named the Maryland Association of School Librarians Spotlight Librarian of the Month in December and was a finalist for the 2022 Carroll County Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, according to Kathleen Brunnett of Westminster, who works as supervisor of library media forthe county.

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Stencil, who has worked at East Middle in Westminster for 13 years, graduated from McDaniel College’s school library program. He chairs the Carroll County Media Advisory Committee, works with teachers to educate students about technology and inspire them to read, and also teaches a learning technologies class at McDaniel.

“I always liked computers, technology and books,” Stencil said. “And I was able to kind of streamline that into the perfect job.”

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Under Stencil’s guidance, a team of East Middle eighth-graders produce and anchor a morning news program of about five minutes, which includes the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence. The librarian said the experience gives students speech and teamwork skills that will likely serve them well as they continue their education.

The morning news sometimes runs longer than its allotted time when Stencil produces one of his famous videos to insert into the program. Stencil said making videos is one of his favorite parts of the job, and he will often spend a day making a silly production intended to reiterate a character education lesson to students. The videos star East Middle teachers and are often parodies of topical things such as viral videos, popular commercials or the Olympics. The Eastie Boys, a Beastie Boys parody, has been Stencil’s favorite production thus far.

“I really missed my calling as a director, I think,” Stencil said.

Media specialist Michael Stencil talks with a class about a book at Westminster's East Middle School on Thursday, January 12, 2023.

Most middle and many elementary schools in the county have a morning news program that includes video, but Brunnett said high schools do not provide student-anchored morning news due to scheduling constraints.

A successful video news program is not without its technological challenges, and Brunnett said Stencil has stepped up to help other schools set up and troubleshoot technological issues with their morning news.

“He is an advocate to help other librarians. He has a real grasp and enjoyment of video production and streaming, so he’s a leader in the county for that video editing and streaming piece,” Brunnett said. “He kindly will go out and help other media specialists.”

Stencil is humble about his far-reaching impact in county schools, in a way that suits a natural leader. James Carver, East Middle School’s principal, said Stencil is his go-to guy for technology, and has been a great asset in guiding teachers to find the right balance of technology in the classroom at East Middle.

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“Mike’s one of my most creative staff that I have here,” Carver said. “He is a very smart person and collaborates well with others. He collaborates well with other media specialists around the county and I really believe they see him as a leader.”

In one particularly successful collaboration called Locked into Reading, Stencil went above and beyond his job description to codevelop an after school program modeled after an escape room and designed to get students more engaged with books. Stencil said he partnered with fellow media specialist Laurie Owings, who worked at North Carroll Middle School at the program’s inception in 2017, but now works at Manchester Valley High School.

Media specialist Michael Stencil talks to students as he gives a lesson on cyberbullying at Westminster's East Middle School on Thursday, January 12, 2023.

As many as 80 East Middle School students read 10 books so they can stay after school to solve escape room clues in a contest that promotes critical thinking and collaboration skills. Stencil said the biggest challenge is gauging the difficulty level of his clues and riddles so that most teams finish the activity within an hour.

“He creates an atmosphere where learners feel empowered and the interactions are always so positive,” Brunnett said. “His lessons also challenge the students, make them think and expand their knowledge.”

Although Locked into Reading has garnered attendance as high as 80 students, which represents more than 10% of the school, participation was down in recent years when the activity went virtual. Locked into Reading will return as an in-person activity this year, Stencil said.

As a school librarian, Stencil teaches students directly about topics such as digital citizenship, or the responsible use of technology, and encourages students to check out books from the school library. Stencil educates every student at the middle school and sometimes works behind the scenes to help teachers develop technology-forward curricula — collaborating with other educators to assign projects involving podcasting and websites such as Animoto and Canva.

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Stencil’s leadership is recognized in his role as chairperson of the Media Advisory Committee, in which he is responsible for setting meeting dates, organizing agendas and keeping the meetings moving at an appropriate pace. Brunnett said the committee meets four times per year to hear concerns, answer questions and celebrate achievements of Carroll County media specialists.

Media specialist Michael Stencil at Westminster's East Middle School on Thursday, January 12, 2023.

In addition to Stencil being named Spotlight Librarian in December, Elmer Wolfe Elementary’s media specialist Danielle Schwessinger was named Spotlight Librarian in November. Brunnett said continued recognition of Carroll County media specialists on a state level is a testament to the collaboration, creativity and resourcefulness her team displays, and no one embodies those traits more than Stencil.

“He’s an amazing librarian and really epitomizes the role of today’s media specialists because he’s focused on his students and their learning by providing a lot of opportunities for them to explore and discover their interests,” Brunnett said. “It’s so important.”

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