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The Unsung Heroes in our Schools

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I write about heroes.

I spent ten years writing the books "Heroes for My Daughter" and "Heroes for My Son," to give my children examples of inspiring people whose virtues, talents and wisdom made them such great role models.

There were some famous heroes in those books, ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Lucille Ball. There were also lesser-known "regular" people. But regardless of their fame, they all proved that ordinary people change the world.

One of those ordinary people is my former English teacher Sheila Spicer.

When I was in ninth grade, Miss Spicer came up to me and said, "You can write." She told me, "You're in the wrong class. You need to be in the honors class."

For the entire school year, she made me sit in a corner and do the honors work, rather than what she was teaching the other kids in the classroom.

What she was really telling me was, "You're going to thank me later."

A decade later, when my first novel was published, I knocked on her classroom door. I said, "My name is Brad Meltzer, and this novel is for you." And she started crying.

When I asked why she was crying, she said, "I was going to retire this year because I thought I wasn't having an impact anymore." What amazed me most was she had no idea of her impact on me.

In our schools today, there are many Mrs. Spicers, teachers who work away from the spotlight, going about the business of inspiring their students to aspire to greatness.

This is especially true of our school librarians.

And as we celebrate National Library Week, it is important that we recognize the importance of school librarians.

School librarians transform lives through education and make it possible for students to thrive in a 21st century learning environment.

You will find them at places like Pine Grove Middle School, in the East Syracuse Minoa School District in New York, which received one of the "National School Library Program of the Year" awards from the American Association of School Librarians, a division of the American Library Association (ALA).

Librarian Sue Kowalski created areas for students to focus on graphic novels and drawing. Through her "iStaff" program, middle school students were able to act as tutors, reading advisors and event tech support, while assuming the role of ambassadors to visiting legislators.

School librarians play an integral role in their schools, collaborating with teachers on lesson plans, working with administrators to obtain grants and aiding students in using new media.

But like Mrs. Spicer, their vital work is largely unrecognized. What is worse, it is being compromised, as local, state and federal funding for school libraries continues to shrink.

While this might improve the bottom line for schools, it is depriving students of an equal opportunity to gather the skills necessary to learn, participate and compete in today's world.

On the federal level, school libraries are facing an uphill battle.

President Obama's proposed budget called for eliminating millions of dollars in funding to school libraries.

Recently thousands of library supporters signed a petition that was sent to President Obama. Written by Indiana school librarian Carl Harvey, it calls for every child in America to receive access to an effective school library program.

In particular, it calls for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to include a dedicated funding source for effective school library programs.

The petition drive was successful, but the future for school libraries hangs perilously in the balance.

When I see what is happening to school library budgets today, I am horrified to think that we live in a country where school librarians - with the power to inspire, as my former teacher inspired me - are considered expendable just for the sake of saving a few bucks.

Let's not sacrifice our future. As policymakers and school administrators struggle with tough decisions, we as a nation must voice our support and advocate for funding, so that all children have access to 21st century school library programs.

We are a world starving for heroes. If you want to find them, support our school libraries.