At the start of the school year, every Middle School student was gifted a book. And not a math textbook or a dense history book, but an award-winning, age-appropriate novel that everyone else in their grade was reading, too, and could be read and enjoyed at their leisure.
Grade 6 students read “The Apothecary” by Maile Meloy; Grade 7 students read “The Giver” by Lois Lowry and Grade 8 students read “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline.
“We wanted a way to bring the community together around literacy,” says teacher-librarian Ms. Sarah Craig, who planned SMUS Reads along with teacher Ms. Min Maclean. “Whether the kids liked the book or didn’t like the book, they all had an opportunity to chat about it and everybody had that common experience as a grade, which was the critical piece for us; getting the kids to come together in a positive way.”
Last week, the Middle School made each of the stories jump off the page, as fun lunchtime events were held, based around the settings, plots, characters and themes of the books.
Among the highlights for the Grade 6 students was a visit from Camosun College chemistry professor Dr. John Lee, who set up an apothecary lab and conducted fun and fascinating science experiments with the kids.
Grade 7 students participated in a slow bike race (the last person to cross the finish line or remain upright on their bike without their feet touching the ground wins) and decorated cupcakes.
And the Grade 8 students participated in a complex, week-long riddle-scavenger hunt around the school, which culminated in an ’80s trivia game on Friday.
“This was so much fun,” Sarah says. “The kids just totally got into it, it was fantastic.”
While students were able to read the books at their own pace, teachers would designate chunks of classroom time every so often to allow the kids to drop everything and read.
“The kids really liked having that time; a lot of them said it was a calming transition for their day where they got to come in, sit down and immerse themselves in the book. They said they loved the activities last week, they were really able to go in depth with the story, they brought the novel alive for them,” Sarah says.
While this was the first year that the SMUS Middle School has done something like this, she says it surely won’t be the last.
“We’ve had such an overwhelming response from students and teachers – everyone loved it,” Sarah says. “This was also about launching the new library space, to say, ‘The library is here and it’s a huge part of your everyday education.’ Literacy is so important, so to promote novels in this way, to make them come alive and be really engaging is a critical piece to making the library successful and it’s such a critical part of their educational experience.”
(photos by Kyle Slavin and Jolanta Lisiewicz)