OUSD Featured Library: Garfield Elementary School


Garfield Elementary School’s fabulous library re-opened last school year after a long closure. Superstar Library Tech Natalie Canellas, a former classroom teacher, has created a truly special space for students. Ms. Nat shares more about her library and her journey from classroom teacher to library services

By Natalie Canellas

A safe haven at school
Garfield’s library is one of the only rooms on our elementary school’s campus where ALL students can spend time. It’s a safe haven for students, and we often have puzzle collaborating, bracelet making, silent reading, and idea sharing going on, all at the same time! Something particularly unique about our library is that Steph and Ayesha Curry’s Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation partnered with Rakuten to donate a large sum of money to our school to reopen our library after over a decade of closure due to Oakland Unified School District budget cuts. Students often say, “Thank you, Steph Curry!” when checking out a book.

My favorite thing about working at Garfield’s library is getting to observe the way certain books call out to students and their identities — simply by being in Spanish, having a character that looks like them or acts like them on the cover, or by including subject matter they can relate to. It’s like watching a student make a new friend. It’s magnetic. I often connect read-alouds and library activities to topics that students are studying in their classrooms, and I see recognition come across students’ faces as they realize the extension of the lessons in their classrooms to real life situations, real life authors, and stories that stand the test of time.

Libraries are also safe creative spaces for students, which is an invaluable gift. They’re a short break from standards-aligned curriculum that still reinforce a love for learning and gaining new knowledge. A life-long love of reading begins in an elementary school library.

Lately, I have been loving Oakland artist Christian Robinson’s books. I recently read one of his picture books, Another, out loud to students, and it’s a “choose your own adventure” type story as there are no words, just pictures. There’s a clear storyline throughout it, though, with tons of room for improvisation. A young kid finds their way through a bunch of portals into secret worlds full of twins, cats, and bouncy balls. I had students create their own portals after we read it. Their designs were adorable and inspiring. Kids really respond to books like that, where they get to be part of the storymaking.

From classroom teacher to the library
Before I worked at Garfield, I was a college senior in May of 2020 in Gainesville, Florida, at the University of Florida. I didn’t get a real graduation, but I did get a letter of acceptance from Teach For America. I taught fifth grade for two years while I worked on obtaining my Master of Education at night. It was really difficult, and I learned more than I ever could have imagined to learn at twenty-two, twenty-three years old.

After two years of classroom teaching, I wanted to do something different. To be frank, I was burnt out from classroom teaching after the pandemic, teaching on Zoom, and moving across the country. I told my principal at the time that I loved Garfield, and I loved the Fruitvale community, but I needed a change. He mentioned the idea of opening Garfield’s library after over a decade of closure, and a lightbulb turned on somewhere inside me. It was like the library found me. I had never considered being a librarian before the opportunity presented itself, but I can honestly say it’s the best job I’ve ever had.

Volunteers Elaine Wells and Shantha Ursell assist with shelving at Garfield Elementary
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