Laura Stewart

Pacific Ridge Elementary School librarian Laura Stewart.

More than 12,000 books and library materials made the move from Gearhart Elementary School to the new Pacific Ridge Elementary School on Spruce Drive, part of the district’s efforts to relocate students to a campus outside of the tsunami inundation zone.

Librarian Laura Stewart guided the library’s effort, and this month, she won a state award for her work, earning the Oregon Association of School Libraries award, Library Paraprofessional of the Year 2020 award.

As full-time librarians in the state are cut from city and school payrolls, paraprofessionals like Stewart are asked to step up into positions left vacant.

“I was surprised and very honored to receive this recognition in a year that has been filled with challenges every day, in every facet of our lives,” Stewart said. “It was a bright surprise to receive this news.”

Stewart and her husband, Jay Stewart, owned a potter gift shop, House of the Potter Inc., in Cannon Beach, for 34 years. Her husband died in 2011. She closed the store in 2013, deciding it was time to make changes in her life.

Stewart considered leaving the North Coast to live closer to her children, but in October 2013 a position opened up at Seaside Heights Elementary as a Title 1 aide.

“My plan was to sell my house and decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” Stewart said. “But a happy surprise happened. I was loving working with elementary kids. My job gave me so much joy.”

When her house and 7-acre property on U.S. Highway 26 in Seaside sold in 2015, she found a rental in Gearhart. At that same time the job of paraprofessional librarian at Gearhart school opened up. “I applied and was hired,” she said. “My love of reading books and kids merged into a perfect job for me.”

That was also the same year that the campaign to pass the Seaside School District bond to build new schools in Seaside started.

Stewart joined the committee. “My four children were born and raised in Seaside,” she said. “They went to Cannon Beach Elementary, graduating from Seaside High School. You could say I was a very involved parent volunteer, my belief that our Seaside kids needed and deserved a safe school became a passion. When the bond passed I was so happy. This was finally going to happen. I made the decision to buy a home and stay in our community to keep working for our Seaside kids.”

She worked for four years to get Gearhart Elementary School ready for the library merge with The Heights.

“Then came a pandemic, online school and all the things that happen with this new reality in education,” she said.

“In June, I packed up the library for the move in August, wearing masks and gloves,” she said. “In August, our move in was delayed, due to delays in the construction and COVID-19 restrictions. Finally, the movers came last week with library carts to move the books to our new library.”

While weeding collections and boxing all materials, Stewart continued to read stories online to students during distance learning and applied for and received a $3,000 grant to boost the new library’s Spanish collection.

After mornings of online school, Stewart, fellow librarian Maureen Ogilvie and educational assistants shelve books in the afternoons.

“With masks, gloves and all the district COVID protocols we are merging our schools into one Pacific Ridge Elementary,” Stewart said. “Never in a million years would I have imagined this is the way we would be merging our libraries.”

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