Gayle Skaggs' designs turn school library into a wealth of inspiration

Gayle Skaggs has been inspiring readers through room decorations for decades. The Eugene elementary librarian has published five books on the subject and has helped with a new wave of school appearance this year.

Gayle Skaggs has been inspiring readers through room decorations for decades. The Eugene elementary librarian has published five books on the subject and has helped with a new wave of school appearance this year. Photo by Michelle Brooks.

EUGENE — Dinosaurs in the hallway, a safari in the library and an underwater world in the story room — Eugene elementary students enjoy immersing into imaginary worlds when they enter Gayle Skaggs’ room.

The artist-turned-librarian has been in the elementary basement, helping pair books and readers for 15 years. She has taught art or served as librarian at several Missouri schools since graduating from Central Missouri University in Warrensburg in 1974.

“She’s absolutely wonderful; one of the most talented ladies I’ve ever came across,” said Principal Dan Smith. “It never ceases to amaze us what she can come up with.”

For the nine years as one of the librarians at Jefferson City High School (JCHS), she shared her creative side, too. But it has been at Eugene where she’s really been able to shine, with the support and trust of her coworkers and administration.

Through the schools’ Professional Learning Community, Skaggs has worked with the Creative Consultants group to bring new life to the hallways and classrooms.

The school board approved a multi-phase project, which began with the new awning above the elementary entrance and teachers volunteering the day after the end of school in May to paint the hallways.

“Everybody jumped in; it pulled our faculty together,” Skaggs said.

By the time students arrived in August, many of the teachers had taken advantage of the new opportunity to paint accent colors in their classrooms.

“It’s helped with school spirit and teacher cohesiveness,” Smith said. “It’s been very contagious.

“The school looks as good as it has in the 18 years I have been here.”

Next will be a dropped ceiling of the entry hall, planters out front and new signage. The next, more expensive phase, would included separate faculty bathrooms and additional teacher workroom space.

Beautifying the building will make it more exciting for students and employees to come to school, she said.

“We’re also encouraging kids to take ownership of the building and have respect for their surroundings,” Skaggs said.

Her library has been transformed to a garden, New York City, a transportation hub, outer space and a jungle.

And with the help of her husband, Robert, a retired art teacher, she brings large and life-like characters to her room.

The camels at the entrance to the library have been out before. But Camella, the lovable marionette camel suspended from the ceiling is new. She is the weekly reward for students who get to take turns sitting with her during story time.

“If I don’t give the animals names, they kids will,” Skaggs said. “Everything has to be touchable.”

After so many years, she’s able to recycle some pieces and loans others to teachers.

The 6-foot-tall papier mache Snoopy and Garfield take up the most storage space in her small home. But they are treasures she keeps, nonetheless.

Then, there’s her own characters. For the last few book fair weeks, she’s added pizzazz as Ms. Frizzle, the red-headed teacher from the Magic School Bus series.

And this year, she’s coming as the Teacher From the Black Lagoon.

Her first year she dressed as Jim the Wonder Dog and one year for the 100th day of school, she brought a walker and pretended to be age 100.

“It’s funny when the kids don’t know it’s me,” she said.

Before Pinterest, Skaggs was sharing her room decorating ideas in five McFarland Publishing Company books between 1992-2008.

Her coworkers at JCHS made for the release of her first book a T-shirt with its ISBN number.

“That made me feel really cool,” Skaggs said.

The final book, Skaggs dedicated to the students and coworkers in Eugene. That year she brought the proofs to school and shared the process with the students as an extra learning experience.

“It’s very exciting to get a student and a book together,” she said. “I feel I’m not a teacher, but a resource.”

Skaggs tries to be within 30-minutes of supplementing any topic or project in another classroom. While students search for new books to check out, Skaggs visits with teachers to discover what ways she can be a support.

“I know I’m not a great teacher, but I can get the stuff to them to be a great teacher,” she said.

For example, she teaches map-reading — something students in the age of GPS may not understand.

And she involves the older students in the World Almanac Almania competition, where they learn the skills to find answers.

“Books aren’t of any value on the shelf,” Skaggs said. “I try to get them out of here as much as I can.”

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