If You Feed Them, They Will Come and Other Insights on Winning the Ruth Toor Grant

About a year ago, I read an article about a high school English teacher who was improving reading scores by challenging his students to read a million words “for fun” during the school year. With that idea in the back of my mind, I applied for the Ruth Toor Grant for Strong Public School Libraries.

My idea was to give students several incentives, and one really big self-challenge, to promote reading. At the high school level, I hear excuses of all kinds. “I don’t have time to read.” “I have practice tonight.” “I have that book I HAVE to read for English.” But studies and common sense have proven reading for pleasure builds reading skills, and the majority of state-mandated exams are heavy on reading skills! Creating a student-promotional campaign for the grant was easy: I developed my own version of the Million Word Challenge for an almost 2,000-student population and two reading marathon weeks.

How is it going so far? I have had good participation in the registration of twitter accounts – which is how students are held accountable for actually reading in the challenge. However, my own children are so active on social media that I never realized how many teens have shunned Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram. Many students created accounts simply for the challenge and are planning to delete them once the year ends if we don’t have another challenge next year. Other students, who are prolific readers, asked if it’s really a challenge for someone who reads 2-3 novels per week. I’m still working on encouraging a few of these students to join and set their personal goals higher.

Teachers are an entirely different matter. I’ve worked closely during the past few years with several departments on research projects. However, I know some faculty members are unaware of the many ways I can help them with technology-based lessons, media resources, and research projects. My first staff training, “The Library Scoop,” encouraged teachers to stop by for training on using the new library green screen area and to garner green screen project ideas for all subject areas. The National Honor Society officers volunteered to serve up ice cream sundaes, and everything was planned to perfection until…several other trainings that had been postponed on an earlier workday needed to be rescheduled for the time of “The Library Scoop.” Flexibility is the key so I changed my time for that day, and I offered a second training after school as well. So far, the entire American History department has signed up for project time as well as Earth and Environmental Science classes, Marketing, two clubs, and the Student Government Association. Not bad for less than one month of school!

Overall, students and faculty have been enthusiastic about the grant programming planned for this year. I am excited about the upcoming “Biscuits and Books” session for teachers in October as well as having a guest speaker for upper classmen this fall to help them get ready for “Real World Finances” after high school. The only complaint I have had from teachers is that they cannot participate in the Million Word Challenge…I think that’s a great idea for next year.

Author: Stephanie Rous

Categories: Awards Spotlight, Community

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