by Jeremy Venook, AmeriCorps member serving on the Wellington Management team wtih McKay K-8 School
A few weeks ago, I made a pledge to myself. By the end of the year, I will have introduced my students to my favorite problem: having too many books.
This vow came about when I suggested a monthly reading club to some of my students. The immediate response was refreshingly enthusiastic, and several students volunteered to devote one lunch period per month to the group almost without hesitation. Soon, though, we hit a bit of an obstacle: the books themselves.
See, not all of my students have consistent access to a library. The East Boston Branch of the Boston Public Library is ostensibly within walking distance, but only for those with a very liberal definition of “walking distance.” For what seems to be the majority of my students, the library is just far enough away from the school, and the neighborhoods in which they live, that they do not yet have library cards.
For this month, I decided to take matters into my own hands, which is why the Somerville Public Library is now conveniently devoid of copies of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (chosen, not incidentally, just a few days before Halloween), which are currently circulating through the 5th grade at McKay with remarkable rapidity. Next time around, however, I hope to be able to leave it up to my students to make it to the library and track down a copy for themselves, not just to ease the strain on my back but to give them an entrée towards their own love of books that will keep them going well beyond our monthly meetings.
With some students, fostering this desire to read is relatively simple. Take last week, for example: all it took was some completely sincere gushing upon finding the new Lemony Snicket series available at the Scholastic Book Fair to pique one of my students’ curiosity to the extent that he immediately ran over to the table to buy a copy for himself. (Side note: did you know Lemony Snicket has a new series? Why didn’t anybody tell me about this!?)
For others, though, it’s more of an uphill climb. These are the type of students who typically balk at the teacher’s oft-reiterated nightly assignment of 30 minutes of independent reading, who have decided at age 10 that all books are boring, whose response when I tell them how much I love reading is to cry “nerd” (a sobriquet, by the way, I am more than happy to embrace). The process here has to be more calculated. Now it’s not just The Graveyard Book weighing down my backpack but a veritable lending library on the off chance that maybe, just maybe, that one student struggling in Extended Day will take to Holes or Danny, Champion of the World the way I once took to The Phantom Tollbooth and Redwall.
Fortunately, I’ve got plenty of allies in this endeavor. There are, of course, the teachers, who are already doing more to promote literacy than I ever could in my role and are ready and willing to team up to get our students more engaged. There are my fellow CMs, with countless suggestions of strategies and titles. And, of course, there’s the Boston Public Library, that silent partner that is already doing all it can to help me teach my students the pleasures of having too many books.