For most of Heather Dempsey’s life, she has spent her days at Pleasant Valley schools.
She was in kindergarten when the school opened in 1981, and she graduated high school from there. She left only during her college years and returned as a teacher the year afterward.
Dempsey even has pictorial confirmation of how her life is intertwined with that of the school: As the new librarian, following the 21 years she taught English at the school, she has a shelf full of 33 yearbooks that contain photos of her.
As librarian, it became her job this past summer to decorate the room where she works — a task that combined her love for the school and for interior design.
It’s a field where she’s had practical experience. Dempsey and her husband, Chris, a 10th-grade English teacher at the school, own Fiddler’s Green, a replica of an antebellum home in Jacksonville that has period décor from the floor to the ceiling of every room. Dempsey oversees the décor both there and in the school library.
Money to redecorate the library came in part from funds left behind by the previous librarian, Robin Fincher. Other funds came from the Dempseys themselves.
Their search to create an interesting space for learning took them to a north Alabama attraction, the World’s Longest Yard Sale. At the beginning of the summer, Chris’s parents, and another relative — a beloved aunt who is since deceased — conducted yard sales to raise more money, and the three traipsed along the route of the World’s Longest Yard Sale this summer looking for special furnishings for the school library.
“They texted photos of the items to me,” Dempsey said, “to see if I liked them. The frames on the ‘Wall of Authors’ and some end tables that Chris painted are from the yard sale.”
The principal at Pleasant Valley requires teachers to spend at least six hours working in their classroom during the summer. Dempsey stopped logging in hours after she accumulated 18.
In the library is a shelf with a skull and a strand of wooden beads beside a book by Sherlock Holmes. An upholstered chair sits beside an orange couch, both of which allow students and teacher places to relax as they read. Another shelf holding a fish net, a boat paddle and a piece of driftwood reminds readers that Ernest Hemingway wrote “The Old Man and the Sea.”
“I tried to create the look of an old library, with a fireplace mantel,” Dempsey said. “I wanted it to be inviting and calm.”
At times, she enhances the library’s atmosphere with music.
“I thoroughly enjoy the new library,” said Hunter Bridges, a junior at the school. “I love the music that Mrs. Dempsey sometimes has going in the sitting areas. With the library being so inviting, it encourages us students to read, work on homework, or go there during study period.”
One last touch that the students and teachers love is the coffee maker Dempsey has in the library. She uses it to reward hardworking and helpful students. They can earn points that result in an invitation to sit and drink a cup of decaffeinated coffee with cream — no sugar.
“They enjoy the ambience,” Dempsey said.
The teachers are using the library for their faculty and in-service meetings. They, too, drink coffee there — regular, the kind that is stronger and guaranteed to keep them going a little longer as they plan and talk about the many ways to keep students in learning mode.