Martha Bongiorno is a world traveler and yet she’s only left the country twice.
Her travels are only one reason the Bryan County resident and library media specialist at Richmond Hill Elementary School was recently picked as the 2018 library media specialist of the year for Coastal Georgia.
Bongiornio competed against 14 school librarians in Coastal Georgia and took top honors because of her innovative approach to virtual world traveling and emphasis on reading and other library sciences.
The Georgia Media Library Association will pick the state library media specialist of the year at its annual conference in June.
Bongiorno said Robin Thompson and Shila Cantele, both of Bryan County Schools, encouraged and nominated her for the prestigious award.
"Robin Thompson pushed to apply and Shila Cantele nominated me. I feel very honored," the library media specialist said.
"I competed against 14 other counties and won. I was surprised. It was very humbling. You’re proud of the work you do and the kids do and the relationships you build. When someone else notices that, it feels good. I feel like any one of the other 14 could have been chosen. Everyone that was nominated was that good and has something special.
"I had to talk about how we encourage our students to read and use technology integration," Bongiorno continued. "I also had to explain how we have met with 19 authors this school year to promote reading and traveled almost 100,000 miles to eight different countries on virtual field trips over the past two years to break down classroom walls for our students to experience the world around them.
"I am the first region winner from Bryan County ever. I’m very honored to have been selected."
Bongiorno said libraries have come a long way since the days when books just got checked out.
"We have tried to integrate the total package for the library. I think we have equitable access. All of our students have access to the same information that they may or may not be receiving at home," said Bongiorno, who is entering her ninth year as an educator.
"I came into being a media specialist after being a humanities teacher. I was a social studies teacher and I look at everything and how we all are inter-connected. The big programs we offer, we work with the teachers on, include, among others, author visits and virtual trips. So I like to break down classroom walls."
She was born and reared in Gwinnett County before she wound up in Bryan County. After graduating from Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, she went to work in Athens as a sixth-grade social studies teacher.
She went on to the University of Georgia, where she earned a master’s degree and also met her future husband, Chris.
"We got married and moved down here. Chris was born and raised in the area and has family here. We have two young children, Izzy, 8, and Aris, 3. So the children keep us busy. We are total nerds at home. Chris is a social studies teacher, as well. He is finishing up his student teaching at Richmond Hill High School. This is a second career for him. He was a police officer," she said.
"We love to travel. We like going all over the place. We’re big on historical places and national parks. We like hiking and kayaking. Worldwide, we’ve been to Mexico and London. We were in London for a week and a half and that just wasn’t enough time. Our favorite place in England was Oxford. I spent all day just exploring the libraries. It was fascinating. We traveled a lot outside London. We went to some historical castles. We tried to take in as much of the culture as we could.
"I want to take our kids back there when they are a little older and will appreciate the significance of what they’re seeing. I want to experience everything with my husband and children. I just want to give the children those experiences," she continued.
"We went to many of the markets in England but our big bucket list item is going to Sicily. That’s where Chris’ family is from. We probably won’t go anytime soon. I want our children to be able to appreciate where they are. But we will get there. I think my husband would also want to see Rome and the Coliseum. I would love to start at one end of Europe and travel to the other end."
Locally, the mother-of-two said she loves to go to Fort McAllister and experience the outdoors and hiking trails there. She hopes to do some camping on the beach this summer with Chris and the children, now that the youngest is getting a little older.
Her summer will also be spent traveling to professional media and library conferences, some of which will include giving presentations.
"I will talk about some of the things we’re doing and what is working well for us. I’m really proud of the presentation I’m making at the Georgia Library Media Association conference. It’s highlighting all of the programs I’ve been doing, including virtual field trips."
Her love of travel includes traveling virtually with her students, as well as traveling real time with her family. She and her students have traveled virtually around the world without leaving the confines of the RHES library to some eight countries, including New Zealand and Antartica back in December.
"The kids loved it. It’s amazing that technology can give them access to all these wonderful things."
It should come as no surprise that the 2018 Library Media Specialist for Coastal Georgia is an avid reader, with fantasy topping her list of favorite reads.
"I love children’s books and young adult books, too. My passion is young adult books," she said.
Bongiorno, surprisingly, didn’t always want to be a teacher. She credits her love of reading and teaching to an eighth-grade teacher, Dr. Homestead.
"Reading was my place to go to escape. My eighth-grade Georgia studies teacher inspired and encouraged me. The biggest turning point for me and when I knew I wanted to be a teacher came from my association with her. She inspired me to be a better person, to stand up for what I believed in and teaching was a way to accomplish that."