Establishing An Inclusive Community of Readers

By Edward M. Kemnitzer, Executive Assistant for Technology Integration of Curriculum Support and Development for the Massapequa Public Schools

Edward KemnitzerIn this first installment of a two-part series, Edward shares how your school can create a community of readers and why to re-think your summer reading program.
“Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
In my first year as a supervisor of an English department, I engaged teachers to consider the value of their brand. What do they stand for as a department? What do they offer their students, their students’ parents, and the entire community of education?
One teacher joyfully blurted, “We are a community of readers.” It was a proud moment for her to share that their collective body of work has fostered a culture of literacy in the school community.
She was sort of on track. Many students do read independently (yes, even without reading logs). I have witnessed many teachers from all departments with a book in their hands during building-wide sustained silent reading.
Yet, what about the others: the secretaries, custodians, teaching assistants, cafeteria staff members, administrators, parents, and all members of our school? Do they fit into this culture? Have we provided the time, space, focus, and materials so they could join?
It was through these questions that Alfred G. Berner Middle School’s One School-One Book initiative was born. We made it our goal to be intentional about creating a true “community of readers” in the Massapequa Public Schools.
A Shift in Summer Reading
Summer reading certainly has a culture of its own. The debate about the worth of summer reading will always have a space in the discussion of pedagogy and literacy practices. How many books? Should there be choice in the selection? How much choice? Is an assignment a burden for students and parents? Why issue a graded assessment of independent reading? When is an assessment appropriate? Yet, what if we leveraged this opportunity to read and provided a copy of a common text to all students, teachers, and school staff members?
Even further, besides offering a reading guide for students who many need structure, don’t assign a choreographed task to complete over the summer. We would trust that the act and love of reading will inspire students and community members to join our culture of literacy.
In developing a One School-One Book initiative, we did just that. In three years of our initiative, every member of the Alfred G. Berner school community, nearly 1,500 members, all read R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a Tree, and Shelley Pearsall’s The Seventh Most Important Thing. Saturated in all three novels is the integration of social emotional learning.
This SEL piece was a prime reason for the selection of the three titles. This collective opportunity was too invaluable to ignore the power that literature has on the hearts and minds of its audience. To ensure access, we provided the novels to all participants. Yes, this approach costs money and is a budgetary consideration but worth every penny! We are fortunate to have undying support from our superintendent, Board of Education, central office staff, and building principal.
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Ed Kemnitzer is the Executive Assistant for Technology Integration of Curriculum Support and Development for the Massapequa Public Schools. Ed is a co-founder of EdCamp Long Island. Follow Ed on Twitter at @kemnitzer3. For further information on building this initiative, contact Ed at