When fellow educator Denikka Miller asked Troy Public Schools Librarian Kay Randall to set aside a day this summer, Randall had no idea what Miller had in store.
When Miller called her to say she wanted Randall to go to a conference on that day because Miller was doing a presentation, Randall thought maybe she wanted some kind of moral support.
Even as the recipient for the Outstanding Educator of the year in Reading Award was being announced at the annual Northwest Montana Reading Council’s conference, Randall said it took her a minute before she realized the presenter was talking about her.
“I was totally flummoxed,” Randall said. “It was a real honor — it was a real honor.”
In addition, Randall’s daughter, parents and her aunt conspired to be there as well to share in her day, Randall said. “And they totally surprised me, every one of them.”
But as much as the award itself, Randall said she was touched by the fact that a fellow educator and former student was the one who nominated her.
In her nomination letter, Miller said that Randall’s impact on her life has extended into the present.
“I would not be the reader I am today if it weren’t for Kay Randall,” Miller wrote.
Miller described Randall as someone who can get children excited about reading, in part through her own passion for books. And she noted that Randall’s sharing of literature extends to even the adults in her life.
Even just one
Randall said that Miller’s nomination and the things she said in her letter made her recall a prompt from a class she was in over the summer: “What do you want your legacy as an educator to be?”
Her answer, she wanted to know that she had made a difference for even just one student.
“You know you’ve reached kids when you’re in the class that long, you know that there are kids that you’ve reached, but to actually have it verbally stated with a room full of people you don’t know,” Randall said. “It’s one of those things, I can retire happy now.”
Retirement is still some time off for Randall, but the avid reader struggled a little to find the words to express how much Miller’s nomination meant to her.
“I now know that I have achieved the legacy that I had hoped I would achieve some day,” she said. “It’s hanging on my wall. There’s proof. I made a difference.”
In her nominating letter, Miller said Randall can almost always be found with a book she is reading, and recalled times when they worked together seeing Randall in her car finishing a chapter before she went in.
Randall cited a saying about how reading can open a thousand lives to the reader.
“There are so many things to learn about, to find out about, whether you’re reading fiction or nonfiction,” she said.
For children and adolescents struggling with all the questions and conflicts of growing into who they will be, there is benefit beyond just learning about the wider world, Randall said.
“You realize that you’re not the only person in the world who feels the way you feel sometimes,” she said.
Randall said she has heard concerns about some young adult fiction that it may be too “edgy,” but she believes it’s appropriate to helping those young adults explore the issues they struggle with as they become adults.
“They’re trying to find and understand things that they feel or believe — or even what to believe — and in so many cases they think they’re the only one,” she said.
Whether it’s bullying or deeper questions about who they are, being able to read about someone they can identify with can help them to find their own way, and even simply offer the comforting knowledge they are not alone, she said.
Growing a habit
When it comes to getting children interested in reading, Randall said she starts by making sure she finds books that fit the child’s skill level.
If someone is struggling to read because the book is at the wrong level for them, they become discouraged and reading becomes a chore instead of a fun activity, she said.
“I try to gear kids toward books that are at their level,” she said. “And then I bust my buns to try to connect them with things that they’ll be interested in and that they’ll be excited about.”
Once reading is something that people enjoy, it becomes a habit, she said. “It has to be fun.”
“If I can find what it is that makes a kid tick, and what it is that their interest is, then I can find a book that will interest them,” Randall said. “And if I can find a book that interests them, that’s the hook.”