An Inclusive Community of Readers: Part 2

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

Important to be nice...In the second installment of this two-part series, Edward shares his process to create an inclusive community of readers, the importance of parents as partners, and his reflections.
 
Process
 
In order to select these titles, many groups of educators were asked to read various novels that speak to readers on all reading levels, meet with other staff members to share their insight, discuss the pros and cons of the novel they read, and finally come to consensus of the perfect book for the One School-One Book initiative. Parents and students were also invited to share their voices as part of the Shared Decision Making Team.
 
Impressive in this process is hearing the passion that elevates from everyone’s reading experiences. In the first year, we debated, questioned each other, and pleasantly came to an agreement. Once a novel was selected, the curriculum leaders from all departments collaborated with district and building leaders to discuss how to best integrate the One School-One Book initiative into the teaching and learning in all curriculum areas.
 
Teachers from all departments were then invited to author a curriculum for the novel. Since this project took the place of our traditional summer reading assignment, English teachers spent the majority of September facilitating powerful conversations centered on the common text. The other curriculum areas taught two or three lessons each spread out over the course of the school year.
 
As part of these lessons, students painted the covers of the novels on the glass block walls of the building, collaborated in teams during a full school day dedicated to character education, volunteered time at a local farm cultivating crops and posting precepts from Wonder, created artifacts to highlight themes from each book, and in a culminating activity, participated in a walk-a-thon in physical education class.
 
This event helped shine a spotlight on the importance of assisting those in need. Through our fundraisers and a call to action to our students, our initiative raised thousands of dollars to fund maxillofacial surgeries through donations to SmileTrain, and helped support students with disabilities through a donation to the National Center for Learning Disabilities. This year, our school will raise money for a local organization, Yes Community Counseling Center.
 
Parents as Partners
 
In order to establish a true community of readers, we invited all parents into the conversation. Through this invitation for parents to read a common book with their children, we were able to build collaboration and empower the parent-child partnership. Reading the same book together is certainly powerful.
 
In addition, we facilitated a parent book talk during the school day and in the evening, ensuring that all parents could participate, if desired.
 
During the scheduled book talks, parents and their children discussed and analyzed the strength of characters, the impact of bystanders and upstanders, the emotional ties that we experience when reading, pieces of the novel that prompted tears or laughter, honest text to self connections, and ways in which parents and children could develop their own relationships within their own families.

Reflection

In a blog post last year, I reflected on the success of our initiative after speaking with a teaching assistant who read Fish in a Tree. Full of emotion, she stopped me in the library and stated, “Oh, Ed! It is great to see you. Give me a hug! I keep meaning to contact you. Did you help choose Fish in a Tree for Berner’s book initiative?”
 
I quickly blurted, “Yes! Isn’t it amazing? We all need a Mr. Daniels in our lives.”
 
She continued, “It was unbelievable. I really enjoyed it.” For this teaching assistant, Hunt’s book provided evidence of the importance of her work with students with special needs.
 
After explaining how books have changed the way she sees the world, her job, and her relationships, she spoke about Jacqueline Woodson’s book, Brown Girl Dreaming, and its wealth in all communities, the power of an author’s words, and the impact that Hunt, Woodson, Palacio and others have had on her as a reader...as a person.
 
Wow! I was speaking to a book nerd. And I never knew it. I wish I had hours to listen to her detail her reading life for me. She deserved it. She was evidence of what our school community hoped to accomplish through this literacy initiative.
 
It was in that moment that I realized that the community of readers that I knew existed was even bigger than once imagined. Alfred G. Berner Middle School’s One School-One Book initiative extended the invite to all members of the community and they all accepted. The student. The teacher. The secretary. The custodian. The administrator. The teaching assistant. An #eduwin for Massapequa and the “community of readers” who now felt validation.
 
As we continue with our focus on community literacy projects, I wonder who else out there is waiting for the next Wonder, Fish in a Tree, or The Seventh Most Important Thing to speak to their life’s work. Perhaps, just perhaps, we can use our reading lives to “move the world” together.
 

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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 ekemnitzer@msd.k12.ny.us.