From ABC-CLIO’s School Library Connection website
Spring into Reading: A School/Community Partnership
Since I became a librarian in 1995, my goal has been to implement one innovative idea each year. In 2003 and 2004, I was awarded We the People bookshelves from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which required me to find a community partner to read and discuss the books with my students. At the time, my rural consolidated high school (750-800 students in grades 9-12) had one book club of twenty students. The local chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (whose membership featured several retired teachers) graciously partnered with me to fulfill the grant requirements. My students were thrilled to interact with the DAR ladies, but less than enthusiastic about the book choices, which were all classics. At the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, I was pondering what my innovative idea would be, and then I thought: What if I could capitalize on the community partnership angle but do so with current young adult titles? I posted a query on the Kentucky listserv for K-12 librarians and found a somewhat similar idea at two high schools in Fayette County. I tweaked their methods for my purposes, and my idea began to take shape. To give myself time to organize, I decided this would take place in the spring when students were beginning to get restless from the grind of classes and needed something different to look forward to.
The Idea Takes Shape
“Spring into Reading” would be held after school for ninety minutes in April. I planned the date to coincide with after school tutoring and transportation. In addition to the DAR ladies, I had teacher colleagues, my principal, central office staff, retired teachers, community leaders, members of a local book club for adults, and Eastern Kentucky University professors and graduate-level practicum students agree to be discussion leaders—twenty-four in all! Some came with a specific book in mind while others asked me for recommendations that would be sure to appeal to teens. Initial preparations included setting up two rules: only six students could sign up to be in each group in order to allow everyone to have a voice, and that I kept the discussion leaders’ identities a secret so that students would sign up based on their interest in the book, not as a fan of the leader. I also had to acquire seven copies of each book. Many of my titles were current or former titles on the Kentucky Bluegrass Award master list (our state’s children’s choice award), so I already had multiple copies of these titles. I had some funds remaining to make a quick order, but I did supplement a few books from bargain outlets and used book stores to have enough. Who has a book discussion event without food? I used my book fair profits to purchase chips, dips, cookies, and bottled waters from a discount store, and then I went to a local grocery to pre-order cheese, fruit, and vegetable trays. I closed the library the last two periods of the day to put “tablecloths” (bulletin board paper) on each table and set up my serving line. I had already prepared a folder for each discussion leader that included discussion questions specific to their book (or generic questions, as needed), as well as a certificate of appreciation, and a paper requesting feedback from the leaders. I made signs for each table to guide participants to their location as well as nametags for each participant.
The First Event
On Thursday, April 12, 2012, I had fifty-five students for the first “Spring into Reading” event. The refreshments were perfect for students after a long day of school and encouraged conversation at each table. The adult leaders got to know something about each student, and the students were eager to talk about the books and find out what the adults thought about “modern” books. As the event came to a close, many conversations were still going on, and the students were very appreciative that adults would take an interest in them. As they left to catch the bus home, the students made me promise that we would do this again. The adults wholeheartedly agreed, both verbally and in written feedback. I considered it a successful day! I had more than double the number of students that had joined book club, so I had definitely reached more students.
I begin planning in the summer, but I cannot set a date until the snow days have been accumulated and our school calendar revised. I have to schedule around spring break and state and Advanced Placement testing. Depending on our calendar, the event is in either April or May. I start pulling books and recruiting adults in early February in order to have them available when I put out sign-up sheets by mid-March to give the students plenty of time to read their books. Each sign-up sheet has a picture of the book cover, a short plot teaser, and space for six students to sign up along with their fourth period teacher’s name, so I can email a participant list to my colleagues. I also make a class coverage plan for teachers to cover classes for fellow teachers who volunteer to be discussion leaders. I make the discussion leader folders as early as possible to have them ready along with the books for the adults to pick up. I use nametags to take attendance. I do my non-perishable food shopping several days in advance, but I arrange pickup of fresh food either the night before or the morning of the event. I use my book club presidents and student library workers to assist with setting up. My mother-in-law is in charge of the food line, and restocks items as needed, which frees me up to take pictures. One of the DAR members is a retired librarian who serves as hostess and assists with getting community members to volunteer. It takes behind the scenes volunteers as well as discussion leaders to make it all happen.
The Following Years
Spring into Reading is now an annual event. On the first day of school each August, I have students who come in to ask “What is the date for Spring into Reading? I want to put that in my new agenda book!” In 2013, we continued with an after-school format and had 72 students. In 2014, the principal and I agreed to shift to a fourth period/lunch arrangement so that students who had after-school practices could participate. Our numbers jumped to 106 students. We had 111 in 2015, 102 students in 2016, and 97 students in 2017, in spite of conflicts with two field trips. Slots fill up quickly and I have had to turn away students and adult volunteers because I do not have space or seating for any more people in the library! Due to the reading culture in my school, I now have three book clubs. Many of the participants are comfortable coming into the library and it is the place to meet their friends between classes. I am busy planning my final Spring into Reading event for 2018 before I retire with 33 years in education.
The Rockcastle Chapter of the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution received first place for Literacy Promotion in Kentucky in 2015 for their multi-year partnership with the Rockcastle County High School Library and annual participation in the Spring into Reading event. In 2016, they were also honored with the first-place national award. My community volunteers now include the public library director, a variety of teacher colleagues and staff members, and an elementary library colleague. The older students encourage younger students to participate. After six years, I now have graduates who would like to come back and serve as leaders.
This all started with one librarian wanting to develop partnerships in her small community to encourage a love of reading. If I can do it, you can too!
Janet Johnson Wells
Entry ID: 2129160