Gwinnett librarian earns national recognition

As a language arts teacher at Meadowcreek High in Norcross, Cicely Lewis was on a mission to bring literary works to life. Her classes were highlighted by poetry events, readings and other activities that made students wish they were in her course. Her passion for her subject led fellow teachers to tell her she needed to bring those approaches to a wider audience.

“They said I should do something to impact the whole school, and I knew that was what I needed to be doing,” said the 17-year teaching pro. “I went to the principal who gave me the opportunity to be the school librarian, and I’ve been doing it since 2015.”

Lewis has been doing the job so well that she was recently named the 2020 School Librarian of the Year by the School Library Journal and Scholastic, a children’s media company. The honor follows her 2019 award as the Georgia Librarian of the year. The national recognition goes to a K-12 librarian who demonstrates an outstanding commitment to engaging students in multiple literacies.

Lewis has a proven track record of doing that through a program she designed called “Read Woke” that’s aimed at getting Meadowcreek’s 2,600 students motivated to hit the books.

“I started a reading program that displayed books with a Mexican girl or young black boys in hoodies on the cover,” said Lewis. “I put out LGBTQ books and had to tell people, ‘Yes, we can have these here.’ The entire purpose was to give them the language to express themselves to advocate for themselves.”

That idea grew from a 2017 student protest against threats to the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA) policy that sparked a reaction in the minority-majority school.

“Our students did a walkout, but they didn’t know how to express what they were feeling,” said Lewis. “I saw a lot of hate rising, and I wanted to combat that. I wanted them to know their rights, stand up for them and do something, not just hate.”

Lewis picks titles she defines as “woke” – containing some content that challenges the status quo, gives voice to the voiceless, provides information about a group that’s been disenfranchised or has a protagonist from an under-represented population. Students who participate in the program earn coveted “Read Woke” T-shirts.

“The shirts have become a symbol of pride for the school,” said Lewis. “Students want to know how to get one.”

When Lewis put her program’s goals online, she sparked interest from beyond the U.S. Librarians in the U.K. and Canada have followed her lead and started their own “Read Woke” initiatives.

“It’s been a huge opportunity to open up the conversation,” said Lewis, who has traveled to colleges and schools to share her story.

The national award came with a $2,500 prize and an additional $2,500 to purchase library materials. But Lewis admits the award is bittersweet, coming at such a surreal moment.

“When I got the award, I felt so guilty; I don’t want to celebrate when our country and the world are suffering so much, and school librarians are being cut,” she said. “We have the digital information to help students succeed, and the demand for our ebooks and audiobooks has increased since this [shelter-at-home mandate] started.

“We’ve been training teachers to use digital tools to help students. We’re digital educators, and it’s a great time for librarians to show how important we are,” said Lewis. “We’re much more than books.”

Information about Meadowcreek High is online at


Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at or 770-744-3042.