Please join me in welcoming today’s guest blogger, Stacy Ford. Stacy is a Pre-K through 5th Grade Teacher-Librarian at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Norman, Oklahoma. He is the Co-Chair of the Oklahoma Library Association’s Children’s Sequoyah Reading Team, a member of the AASL School Library Month Committee and the Norman Public Schools 2014-2015 District Teacher of the Year. He can also be found on twitter.
A stereotypical glance at John F. Kennedy Elementary School reveals that over 90% of the students qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program and many students are reading below grade level. However, that glance would not reveal the culture of reading that is being built at JFK. This culture is purposefully being developed to ensure that students will love to read long after their time at JFK. Here I want to discuss two of the ways we foster that culture through our annual Sequoyah Read Around and author visits.
Every year, the first library-related program 3rd-5th graders at JFK participate in is an event I call the Sequoyah Read Around. This event promotes the state library association’s reading list and involves teachers, public librarians and community members. Each adult reads a selected title and prepares a two-minute presentation that promotes “their” book. Students are able to hear fifteen, two-minute book talks in less than an hour. After this event I never have to book talk a single state-nominated title. Details on how to organize your own Read Around can be found here. This event allows teachers and students to have common ground to discuss current literature and fosters a shared community of readers throughout the building.
Author visits provide pivotal opportunities for students make a visceral connection with reading. At JFK I am lucky to receive a district grant of about $400. I can couple this money with a $500 stipend from our PTA and if I’m really lucky I can finagle $500 from the PTA visiting artist fund. By combining these funds with the profit that I make from my book fair, I am able to bring in some great authors and illustrators in person and/or via Skype. I’ve had in-person visits from local/regional authors Darleen Bailey Beard, Tammi Sauer, Gwendolyn Hooks and Tim Tingle. I’ve hosted virtual visits with Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Chris Barton, Kate Messner and Bobbie Pyron. The opportunity my students have had to connect with these authors brings life to the writing process and gives them an eagerness to read more. No author visit I’ve hosted has ever been the same. I feel like Skype has opened doors for me to have people connect with my students that I would never be able to have in person. Many teachers will tell me these are the best visits they’ve ever had. I tell you all of these things because I firmly believe that connecting students with authors allows them to see that dreams can come true.
As I look back on my time at JFK I can see how the culture of reading has grown. The students that I work with every day want to be great readers. Every student wants to be a great reader. Our job as educators, authors and the community at large is to foster that desire. We can do it, because our legacy depends on it.