Meet the Winner of the H. Norman Saurage III Service Award: Janet Lathrop


Dream Teachers, an organization dedicated to recognizing educational excellence in Louisiana, recognized Janet Lathrop for outstanding service this year with its first H. Norman Saurage III Service Award.

Lathrop, a librarian teacher at West Feliciana Middle School in St. Francisville, Louisiana, received this year’s award for supporting and promoting reading through her school’s library.

“I’ve always loved to read and it breaks my heart when I hear kids say they hate to read,” Lathrop says. “Public and school libraries are invaluable resources, and I don’t think people fully understand that. They have an old-fashioned view of libraries being just a quiet place to read, and they’re so much more. Modern libraries are vibrant places for learning.”

SaurageAward2_350x197Lathrop, who’s been at West Feliciana Middle School since 1999, started Club Read, which has grown to more than 150 student members each year. Her club joined the Louisiana Teen-age Librarians Association, which is a student-run club of library clubs from around the state. Each year the LTLA holds a statewide conference in Alexandria, where all students can participate in activities, competitions and networking. 

For the past two years, Lathrop has been student relations chairman for the LTLA.

Lathrop was awarded a $5,000 prize for herself and another $5,000 for her organization to support her continued efforts. She said she plans to use the money to set up a scholarship fund to help students who can’t afford to travel for the LTLA conference.

Lathrop says she works to keep students involved by finding fun activities for the library. “Even students who aren’t interested in reading love our library, and they’ll read because of that,” she says. “I show them it’s not nerdy to love reading.”

Lathrop also runs an annual family book club called Students Unite to Read with Family. At the beginning of the school year, she says, she promotes a book or author for students and their families to read. In the fall, the library holds a family literacy night to share food, contests, activities and meet the author, either in person or via Skype. Last year SURF had its highest attendance, with more than 150 people.

This is the inaugural year for the Service Award, which is named in honor of past chairman and 3rd generation owner of the company, H. Norman Saurage III, who was a longtime supporter of education. Lathrop was presented with the award at a gala following Dream Teachers’ 10th annual Cecil J. Picard Educator Excellence Symposium on July 15. Seven finalists, including Lathrop, were brought onstage and recognized for their contributions. Each was given a year’s worth of coffee for their teachers’ lounge, a gift Lathrop says was exciting in itself. 

One of the best parts about winning the award was the opportunity to speak about the importance of libraries and the atmosphere of community and family they can offer, she says.

“I want kids to feel welcome and find acceptance in the library. We have so many different kinds of kids in our club, and they all have a place here,” she says. “I love seeing how much kids can do when you give them the opportunity. I’ve learned to back off and let them lead, giving them the freedom and opportunity to be creative. I’ve been so proud to see shy, quiet kids become well-spoken leaders.”