January Book Fair Helps Prepare Students for Spring Testing
Contributed by Dr. Ines M.L. Schmook, principal of Lake Orienta Elementary School, Altamonte Springs, Fla.
Like principals everywhere, Dr. Ines Schmook returns from winter break to face the pressures of annual springtime testing for the 659 students at her Title 1 Central Florida school. So to help her achieve her goal of “success for every student,” Ines kicks off the new year with a Book Fair.
Lake Orienta is a Grade A school based upon its students’ results in the annual Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) testing. Ines credits the top score to a focus on literacy as a gateway to learning. And with literacy at the core of her educational focus, twice-yearly Book Fairs are part of Ines’ plan to motivate children to read. “I’m going to be doing things to motivate students and parents to go along with my mission,” said Ines, who is in her fifth year as Lake Orienta’s principal and her 30th as an educator.
Instead of relegating Book Fair attendance to early mornings or evenings, Ines incorporates Book Fairs into the school day, allowing children to attend the Fair during special-area classes such as art, physical education, and music. “I don’t have to disrupt their schedules. It doesn’t interfere with regular class time,” she asserted.
Ines recognizes such an approach could be considered controversial, but she sees it as essential to her overall mission. Integrating the Book Fair into the school schedule also sends an important message to children and parents alike. “I see Fairs as a necessity for FCAT preparation. I’m constantly telling parents how important it is that they read and that children read. I emphasize that reading is the core; the more we read, the better,” Ines said.
To drive excitement at the Book Fair, Ines ensures the event is “a big affair.” The hallways are decorated with large posters bearing messages such as “Read Every Day.” The Fair remains open throughout the day, and parents can even go with their children after picking them up from the school’s daycare at 6 p.m.
At the Fair, parents and children can have their pictures taken together. On Wednesday night, students and their families can enjoy free food. And when the Fair is over, third- to fifth-graders participate in a book exchange in which they swap books they bought at the Fair to maintain fresh excitement for reading.
To help maximize book purchases, Lake Orienta is implementing a One for Books drive and is awarding coupons for free books this year. But Ines warns fellow principals about approaching the Book Fair as merely a fund-raising tool. “It’s not about how much money we make. It’s part of a literacy program,” she emphasized.
Media Specialist Lynn Tomlinson said the Book Fair themes – such as the current one, Book Fair Luau – “tend to motivate students to want to buy books. When students come with their parents to buy books, and most get a couple of books each,” she said.
Lynn has seen Book Fairs ignite a love for reading in many of her students – as with the reluctant reader who, after finally choosing a book he liked, became an avid reader who now frequents the library.
“I have also noticed students that typically don’t check out books in the library find a book at the Fair to buy and get excited about reading it. After they read the book, they immediately want to come back to the library to see if they can find another book by that same author and check it out!” Lynn observed.
With Book Fairs as part of Lake Orienta’s multifaceted literacy emphasis that puts life skills above test review, Ines is seeing the realization of “success for every student.”
“We’re one of the top schools in Florida, and I think it’s just because our students are doing a lot of reading,” she said.