Reading program brings together primary and high school students
By Amanda Templeton, School Librarian | June 2018
On a chilly day in November, a group of high school students met in their school library for a photograph and some last-minute instructions before heading out for their first Raiders Read day. Each student was prepared with a room assignment, a copy of We’re All Wonders by R. J. Palacio and a bookmark activity to work on with their elementary friends. The high schoolers were reminded to read with confidence, engage with the younger students, lead by example and ultimately have fun. Dressed in their Raiders Read t-shirts, they left the library and traveled to their assigned elementary classrooms for what proved to be just the first of many successful visits.
Raiders Read is a new reading program designed to build community through books and reading. Offered by the Eastern Lebanon County School District (ELCO), a small rural district located in central Pennsylvania, it was born from the shared desire of two educators to bridge the gap between primary and high school-age students and create a unified pride in being an ELCO Raider Reader.
Fostering a love of reading
Primary level Special Education Teacher Sara Faust and high school Librarian Amanda Templeton collaborated to develop a program that fosters a love of reading in all students by pairing high school readers with kindergarten, first and second grade classrooms in the two elementary buildings in the district. The goal is to promote literacy and leadership by having each high school student visit an assigned classroom, read a picture book to the students and complete a short activity to reinforce story elements from the selected book. Raiders Read affords the older students opportunities to practice public speaking and organizational skills as they lead classrooms of younger students. The primary students feed off the enthusiasm of their high school counterparts and are encouraged to continue building their reading skills.
After several weeks of planning, the first Raiders Read day was scheduled for the month of November, with additional days selected for the remaining months of the school year. Templeton, in charge of organizing the high school student readers, was initially unsure about the number of students who would be interested in participating in Raiders Read. Students are required to meet several criteria in order to be a reader, including being a junior or senior, providing their own transportation to the elementary buildings and back to the high school and having good academic and disciplinary standing.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I advertised the program for the first time with the student body. If we ended up with 20 high school readers I would have been thrilled,” Templeton said. “You just never know when you start something new how the students will respond.”
On the first day of sign ups, Templeton had a list of 42 students who were interested in being a Raider Reader. She was overwhelmed by the excitement and enthusiasm the high school students displayed in their desire to visit the elementary students and read to them.
The support of the elementary and high school administration and faculty has been instrumental in the success of Raiders Read. They see the value of the high school-elementary student partnership and work to ensure logistics of the program are feasible, including approving student travel and permission for the high school students to miss class time from their own schedules to participate as readers. Flexibility also is key to the success of Raiders Read. Ensuring that all kindergarten through second grade classrooms have a reader requires careful coordination. Despite the best laid plans, variables such as student illness or snow days leads to adjusting reader-classroom assignments. There were several times when students were absent on a Raiders Read day or snow cancelled school. In these situations, both students and teachers worked together to try and accommodate all classrooms.
The power to bring communities together
Faust and Templeton agree that book selection is a critical component of Raiders Read. Books are selected that will allow the high school students to interact with the primary students beyond just reading the text to them, and chosen based on their thematic connection to the primary level’s monthly character trait. Each month, a positive character trait is highlighted throughout the school building and in various activities to help students develop positive and contributing behaviors to their community.
“We select children’s literature to correlate with the monthly trait because we think it will encourage our young students to demonstrate the traits throughout the school community, especially since the cool big kids, who our kiddos idolize, are promoting the traits toward them,” Faust said.
Moving forward, Faust and Templeton plan to create a master schedule for the upcoming school year, matching books and activities to each monthly character trait.
“We want to create a culture in which students celebrate stories and their power to bring communities together,” Templeton said. “At first, Raiders Read was just about getting the high school students into the elementary classrooms to read a story and interact with the younger students. But now, we see a great opportunity for growth, not only as readers, but also as leaders of the school community and beyond.”
“They really look up to them”
At the conclusion of the school year, all elementary teachers were given the opportunity to provide feedback about Raiders Read. The responses received were overwhelmingly positive. When asked to identify aspects of the program they liked best, many teachers commented on the interaction between the high school and elementary students. One teacher commented, “My students really enjoyed seeing a high school student in their classroom. They really look up to them and it makes them feel special.” Another response echoed this sentiment, “I loved seeing the high school kids get involved and become role models and teachers to our younger students.” Even the suggestions for improvement continued a theme of positivity about the program with the majority of recommendations focusing on increasing the frequency in which Raiders Read events occur.
Moving into a new school year, planning is already underway for a full year of Raiders Read events and activities. What started as a simple idea to bring older and younger students together through the shared act of reading has grown to be much more.
“The positive impact of the Raiders Read program extends far beyond the walls of the elementary classroom by promoting a love of reading and a sense of community for both age groups of students,” ELCO High School Principal Jennifer Haas said. “The interactions between high school students and the elementary-aged students support a positive culture and the activities led by the high school students reflect the importance of making real world connections to text. This collaborative effort enables the young students to view the high school readers as positive role models and leaders within our school community.”
The students in the ELCO School District not only are growing as readers, but also as contributing members of their school community.
Amanda Templeton is a librarian for Eastern Lebanon County High School in Myerstown, Pennsylvania.