Julia Torres | Movers & Shakers 2020–Educators

"For many of our students, the library is the only place on campus they feel truly free," says teacher librarian Julia Torres. Close to 2,000 students attend the five middle and high schools on the Montbello Campus in northeast Denver, where an unstaffed, frequently shuttered school library suffered eight years of neglect. In its place now is a vibrant, student-focused media center, thanks to Torres. 

Sidsel Bech-Petersen

CURRENT POSITION

Teacher Librarian, Montbello Campus Library, Denver Public Schools 

DEGREE

MA, Regis University, 2016, Denver; MAEd, University of Phoenix, 2007

HONORS

Heinemann Fellow, 2018–20

FOLLOW

@juliaerin80; disrupttexts.org; theeducatorcollaborative.com/consultant/
julia-torres/

Photo by Marcelo Argolo

 

This Disruptor Opens Doors

"For many of our students, the library is the only place on campus they feel truly free," says teacher librarian Julia Torres. Close to 2,000 students attend the five middle and high schools on the Montbello Campus in northeast Denver, where an unstaffed, frequently shuttered school library suffered eight years of neglect. In its place now is a vibrant, student-focused media center, thanks to Torres. A former language arts teacher, Torres describes herself as "book mad," and it’s this reputation that led school administration to court her for a long-overdue library program overhaul.

Hired as a full-time school librarian in 2018 with newly allocated funds, Torres jumped right in by "genrefying" the fiction collection. "Many of our students are not familiar with the names of YA authors, and searching the fiction collection by last name simply was not practical," Torres says. In her first year, circulation hit over 3,200 items and by February of the 2019–20 school year it had increased to over 3,700. "Our library is currently third in the district for top circulation in libraries serving grades six–12," she says.

In addition to reinvigorating the collection, Torres arranged Skype visits with popular authors such as Jason Reynolds and Angie Thomas. When response to author visits was lackluster, she challenged teachers to consider how they could better encourage participation. "I have experienced a lot of joy in my career helping language arts teachers think in new ways about what is possible in the classroom when students really and truly feel free to shape their unique relationship with reading and with words," says Torres.

Torres is a cofounder of #disrupttexts, described as "a crowdsourced, grassroots effort by teachers for teachers to challenge the traditional canon in order to create a more inclusive, representative, and equitable language arts curriculum." Torres’s teaching is "the practice of education for intellectual and physical liberation," she says. "Some of our most vulnerable students are often in the most restrictive and oppressive environments… We, as adults will do what we must to become facilitators supporting them, rather than enforcers indoctrinating them." She is also a "Book Ambassador" for the Educator Collaborative, a K–12 literacy think tank and educational consulting group.

Recognizing the "very real teacher and librarian shortage," Torres notes that these fields need to offer additional support to educators of color. "It is one thing to change hiring practices," she says. "It is another thing entirely to change a culture and climate so much that librarians and teachers of color truly feel the room is ours, too." 

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