Georgia Southern alumna, Read Woke creator recognized as 2019 Mover & Shaker, innovator in education
Named a Library Journal 2019 Mover & Shaker, Gwinnett County Public Schools’ 2019 Library Media Specialist of the Year and the 2019 Metro Georgia Library Media Specialist of the Year, Cicely Lewis is making a name for herself as an innovator in the field of education.
After more than 15 years of experience as a high school language arts and Spanish teacher, Lewis decided to make a career change to pursue a passion her colleagues and students continuously praised her for.
“I would host these huge events in my classrooms like poetry cafes and Harlem Renaissance celebrations, and other students in the school would come by and say, ‘I wish I could be in your class so I could participate,’” Lewis recalled.
With a talent for instructional technology and innovative reading curriculum, Lewis sought a school library media certificate from Georgia Southern University College of Education to make the transition from the classroom to media specialist.
“I selected Georgia Southern because the program was completely online and the university has an impressive reputation among educators,” Lewis said. “I learned so much from the school library program at Georgia Southern. The program was very challenging. Many times I didn’t think I could complete all of the work, but I persevered.”
Lewis says that the school library media certificate program required her to create social media accounts and participate in activities via the social channels. At first, she was hesitant.
“I was so apprehensive, but that was the best decision that I ever made,” she said. “Because of social media, I have reached so many people and learned so much. I also made my first screencast, and I was introduced to various educational tools that have greatly improved my instruction. Every assignment and project that I completed in this program was directly beneficial for my school media center.”
Lewis’ social media presence has also helped create a platform for her now worldwide effort to get students to read. Her program, Read Woke, began in September 2017 as a reading challenge for students to explore literature that challenged social norms. Lewis was inspired by current events and social injustices and wanted to do her part to make a difference.
She created a reading list of books for Read Woke that fit a criteria of challenging a social norm, giving a voice to the voiceless, providing information about a group that has been disenfranchised or having a protagonist from an underrepresented or oppressed group. Lewis felt these books would help students to learn about themselves and other groups while also engaging in serious dialogue.
In less than two years, Read Woke has grown into a movement Lewis calls Read WOKE across America.
“The program has spread like wildfire,” Lewis said. “I have changed it to allow students to bring a book to me and justify why it is Read Woke, and they can use it. The program has grown to include several media specialists from Gwinnett County high schools. I have also expanded it to include picture books for elementary students.”
As such, Lewis was honored with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Top Teacher of 2018 award and as a 2018 Dollar General Teen Read Week grant recipient.
“I am so humbled by all of the awards, and I am greatly appreciative,” Lewis said. “Although the awards have my name on them, they are for librarians everywhere. These awards are for the school librarian whose position has been eliminated because of budget cuts, for the school librarian who has been told they are not a real teacher, for the school librarian who has been told they don’t deserve a raise, for the school librarian who has been told no one reads anymore, and for the school librarian who has been given so many other duties that they cannot successfully run their program.”
Georgia Southern University, a public Carnegie Doctoral/R2 institution founded in 1906, offers 141 degree programs serving nearly 26,500 students through nine colleges on three campuses in Statesboro, Savannah, Hinesville and online instruction. A leader in higher education in southeast Georgia, the University provides a diverse student population with expert faculty, world-class scholarship and hands-on learning opportunities. Georgia Southern creates lifelong learners who serve as responsible scholars, leaders and stewards in their communities. Visit GeorgiaSouthern.edu.