How Burke County Schools Are Modernizing Media Centers for the 21st Century
- August 31, 2023
- Sean Downey
Two years ago, Burke County Schools in Morganton, N.C., received Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding earmarked for helping the 12,000-student district manage the negative impacts of the COVID pandemic. The 1:1 district has 27 schools, many of which featured aging media centers.
Some of the district’s media centers had already been updated, but others needed an overhaul. “Our media centers were filled with old, cloth furniture that wasn’t very sanitary,” said Melanie Honeycutt, Ed.D., CIO. “We wanted to use the ESSER fund opportunity—plus some other available funding—to modernize those media centers.”
Working with Debbie Dale, District Media Coordinator and Instructional Technology Facilitator, Honeycutt first conducted a thorough evaluation of every media center. They considered the existing resources, the needs of each center and the funds available to meet those needs.
“Our middle and our high schools were in the worst shape. One high school had furniture in it dating back to 1972—the year the school as built,” said Honeycutt, who also had the support of several new middle and high school media coordinators throughout this project.
“They wanted to do something different, and even some of the coordinators who had been with the district for a while were ready for some changes,” she added.
Once Honeycutt and Dale decided which media centers needed the most immediate attention, they called on MiEN for help bringing their vision to life. Among the district’s “must haves” were innovative, flexible seating; new designs and colors; and furniture that would encourage high levels of collaboration among students.
“We brought MiEN in, told them what we wanted and shared our budget with them,” said Honeycutt. “They were on campus the following week, helped us get started and kept us on track. They did a great job.” Honeycutt particularly liked how all of the furniture and fixtures for each media center could be procured from the same vendor.
Beginning with two middle school media centers, the district replaced existing 6’ X 8’ shelving that was connected to the walls, existing seating, and other aging fixtures. The schools had opened in the 1990s and hadn’t revamped their furniture since then. The main objective with these and other changes was to bring the middle schools up to speed on student collaboration, teamwork, and other modern learning styles.
“It had to be different, progressive and sustainable,” said Honeycutt. “We wanted furniture that was going to last another 30 years because it just might be that how long before we can order it again.”
The new media centers also had to be modular and populated with furniture that could be moved around to accommodate collaborative sessions between teachers and students; small group instruction; and large group instruction. The shelving had to be equally as mobile and modular.
“Flexibility was a major goal; we wanted it to be easily moveable and ready for collaboration,” said Dale. “We also wanted to be able to easily disinfect and clean the furniture, which we were getting with our ESSER funds, so it couldn’t just be cloth.”
Burke County Schools also infused some elements of fun into its modern, new media centers. For example, one high school media center features a pool table while another has a foosball table in it. These elements, combined with the updated furniture and designs, are changing the way kids look at their school media centers.
“Those are the kinds of things that bring high school students in,” said Honeycutt. “And once you bring them in, then you can start talking to them about learning, reading and begin having conversations about what’s available to them in the media center.”
Throughout the planning and installation process, MiEN helped the team at Burke County Schools manage the districtwide project. “MiEN kept us sane by handling a lot of the details for us,” said Dale. “Their team has an eye for design and expertise in what will and won’t work.”
When the district ordered some lounge seating that didn’t fit well in the space, for example, MiEN helped resolve the issue quickly. “That’s customer service and it’s what makes MiEN different and keeps their customers coming back,” said Dale.
Burke County Schools’ new media center installations started in February 2023, which means some students saw the new facilities for the first time for the new 2023-24 school year. So far, Dale said her favorite aspect of the new spaces are the raised, U-shape tables that include a mix of both soft and traditional seating.
“Those tables are great small group meetings, but we can also position them in front of a flat-screen TV for presentations,” Dale explained. “The soft seating is all wonderful. The fabrics and construction add a lot to our media centers.”
Once all of its existing middle and high school media centers are upgraded, the district plans expanded usage of those modern spaces. “I’m hoping to roll out esports in the high school media centers at some point, since we now have the facilities to be able to do that,” said Honeycutt. “We’ve been in the 21st century now for 23 years; it’s time to start thinking about the next century.”