Luncheon concludes first collaborative community reading project

31 May
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Webster community members and their student reading partners.  

I had the privilege to attend a very nice event on Thursday afternoon, the culminating luncheon of the first-ever community reading project.

Organized by Webster Schroeder English teacher Eileen Connolly, the project paired 25 adults from the greater Webster community with 25 students in Connolly’s 10th grade Here and Now English class. Every participant read the same novel — My Dog Skip by Willie Morris — over a period of four weeks in May. Reading assignments were assigned each week. Participants answered questions related to each assignment, recording their answers in a spiral notebook. The book and notebook were then delivered back and forth between adults and students every week so each could see what the other had written.

At yesterday’s luncheon, the adults and students met each other for the first time. My student partner was Kaylee Ziemniack, and I was pleased to be able to spend a few minutes getting to knew her at the luncheon.

Because it was just the first time for the program, there were a few glitches. But in general, it was a terrific experience and clearly adults and students alike got a lot out of it.

I asked Connolly to provide her thoughts on how things went and if she plans to run the program again next year. Allow me to quote her email directly:

Especially because it was our first time through, I was exceptionally pleased with how the program went. While we had a couple of bumps with delivery, every student and every adult read and responded to all parts of the novel. The opportunity to meet the people they’d been corresponding with was a little scary, but students enjoyed meeting and talking to their partners. Once we finished our luncheon, some of the participants also tried their hand at some blackout poetry using text from the novel.

The program gave students a low stress opportunity to do some reading and having adult feedback kept them interested. Students were always excited to open their envelopes and see what their partners had written. Many adults shared their own memories of childhood and provided some context for kids whose experiences are sometimes, but not always, very different from their own. Even the chance to see that people (other than teachers) actually write in cursive was an eye-opener for some students. Student readers had a chance to view how skilled and mature readers and writers interacted with the text. That provided excellent models for all of our students. …

We hope to expand the program to some English 10 classes at Thomas High School as well. I am thrilled that almost every adult said they would not only participate again but promised to get a friend or two involved.

I am so grateful for the many people who supported the program including our Principal Mr. Benz, Secondary Director of ELA, Larry Wahl, District Courier Jimmy Lehman, and my colleague Linda Law. … (Also) the staff of the offices at all the school pick up and drop off points. They didn’t have any advance notice and were very supportive too! At Schroeder, the front office staff, Kelly Dinsmore and Emily Zicari, were wonderful too!

Most of all, I want to extend my genuine gratitude to each and every community member who accepted our challenge to participate. The program taught my students that there are community members who care enough to take an interest in their work and lives. They gave of their most precious gift: time. There is no way to measure the value (short and long term) of that gift.

I would also like to add a thank you to the staff at the Webster Public Library. I arranged to have my packet dropped off there several times, and they were very accommodating.

I’m already looking forward to next year, and encourage others to come on board when Connolly ramps up the program again.

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At the luncheon: Me and my reading partner Kaylee Ziemniak; Noah Vercruysse and his partner   Meredith Feary. Claire Belmont is photo-bombing. 

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