At the end of January, just after Family Literacy Day, the school launched its One School, One Book initiative.
All of the students in the Kindergarten to Grade 9 school spent time reading the same book for about two weeks. Each student received a copy of the book, as did anyone who works in the school from custodial staff to the bus drivers.
The idea was for the entire school community to “embark on a unified journey based on the love of literacy.”
“It was amazing,” says Alisha Sims, a first-year teacher at the school, about the initiative which she oversaw.
The book chosen was John Reynolds Gardiner’s Stone Fox. It was seen as good option for readers who varied in both ages and reading abilities.
Some Schuler students read the book in just a few days, while others would keep to a daily schedule and read the book with their parents at home.
Each student received his or her own copy of the book, along with support staff, thanks to a donation from Medicine Hat’s A.R.C. Appraisals Ltd.
Students had the opportunity to answer comprehensive trivia questions based on the book and enter their names into draws for prizes. A wrap up event was held mid February with a celebration and various stations set up for students including making bookmarks, colouring, making dog collars and guessing how many dog bones were in a jar.
In addition to reading, a service component of the literacy project was created. The theme of the book revolves around a young boy who is wanting to help save his family’s farm, so he enters a dog sled race. The school took part in an “Every dog has its day” drive for the Medicine Hat SPCA. Donations were being accepted throughout the month of February of items on the SPCA’s wish list from pet food and cat litter, to towels and cleaning supplies.
“That really exceeded my expectations,” says Sims about the donations received for the SPCA.
Families were donating large bags of dog food and one local family even donated a dog kennel.
The book chosen was a perfect one for a school that has multiple grades interacting with one another, as well as it hit a lot of areas of importance for educators.
“I went with a book that would interest a lot of students with such a wide age range and reading levels,” explains Sims.
The book’s theme of saving a farm that is going to be lost because of unpaid taxes, allowed teachers to expand on student learning from just reading, to studying more about the tax system, and areas of financial literacy and numeracy. An integral character in the book is First Nations, so it also had a connection with learning about First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FMNI) themes, which is an important area of education in schools.
“It was such a great way to have parents as partners as well,” adds Sims, pointing out they could read the story with their children at home. “It became a family event and it wasn’t onerous as far as time (to read from the book).”
Older students had the opportunity and a reason to interact with the younger grades through the literacy initiative, and Sims points out because every student received his or her own copy of the book thanks to the generous business donation, it helped build up the inventory in home libraries.
“One of the great things about books is sometimes we forget as teachers, we don’t give students the opportunity to talk about what they’re reading,” says Sims. “This gave us all a chance to talk about it.”
Sims isn’t sure if the one school one book initiative will be repeated next year in Schuler, but she sees the possibility for its expansion. She says one way of doing that is to partner with another school and have two schools reading and talking about the same book.
Jason Duchscherer, Schuler School principal, was pleased with the literacy project and says he would love to see it done every year at the school.
“In Prairie Rose School Division, we have two ‘Wildy Important Goals’, and one of those is to improve literacy learning across the grades. That project achieves exactly that goal,” he says, pointing out the entire school community, from students to bus drivers, were reading the same book and then students were answering comprehension questions based on that reading.
He also likes the book that was chosen, because it had a First Nations character, which helps achieve some goals around FNMI education. Participation was high with about 80 per cent of students taking part.
“That’s excellent results for a school-wide project,” he adds.
Another benefit was seeing relationships develop out of the project as teachers and bus drivers were talking with students about the book. A ton of donations were collected too through the service component with the Medicine Hat SPCA benefitting.
“It is one of the coolest projects I’ve seen,” adds Duchscherer about the One School, One Book initiative.
Central office administration were pleased to see a project involving literacy that included the whole school and some even took part themselves by reading the book. They appreciated the opportunity to ‘learn together.’
“I was present when the books were handed out by Ms. Sims and I loved seeing the excitement and joy on the students’ faces about a book,” says Reagan Weeks, PRSD’s assistant superintendent.
She liked the fact the project involved the entire community in developing a love of literacy.
“The book choice ensured students could relate to the book and enjoy a thrilling adventure,” she adds. “Also the project aligns perfectly with the division goal of enhancing literacy.”