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Students Delve into Reading

Susan Notes: Early in my teaching career, I was hired in a new, experimental urban ed program to teach 'relucatant readers'--7th & 8th grade. After one week, I went to the director and asked him to look at the reading material that sat in my classroom. Himself a reader, he agreed with me that nobody was going to read that crap.

We came up with a coupon system. Every month every kid in my program would get a coupon he could redeem at a nearby bookstore for a paperback book of his choice. I can't begin to tell you the power of student choice. For starters, they made very good choices.

My boss kept telling me, "Sue, don't tell anybody what we're doing. If the board of ed finds out, we'll both be fired." I kept my mouth shut for two decades.

How lucky I was to have this project to guide my entire teaching career. Later on, I repeated the basic premise of student choice in work with high schoolers and 3rd graders, and I can tell you that giving students choices over what they read is, hands down, the best reading method there is.

Most schools don't try it because they don't trust teachers and they don't trust kids. And they don't believe in the power of books.

City schools, Barnes & Noble team up to get kids into books


PITTSFORD Shamar Thompson isn't a big fan of reading, but it didn't take him long to select two books at Barnes & Noble Booksellers on Monday.

The Rochester eighth-grader from the finance school at Franklin went home with books about basketball superstars Allen Iverson and LeBron James two books he said he was sure to read.

Shamar was one of 600 city students to tour and buy books at the book-selling giant as part of a partnership between the store and the City School District. The students were able to select books up to a total of $30, which the district purchased at a discount.

Participating students are from the district's Ramp Up program, which immerses students in reading and writing to increase achievement and literacy. A large part of the program is encouraging students to read on their own.

Babette Phillips, Ramp-Up project supervisor, said the goal is for students "to become owners of books, not just readers."

Ciara Kretschmer, 14, also in Franklin's finance school, said she's already a reader but the trip to the store gave her an opportunity to expand her collection. She found a book about Delta Sigma Theta, an African-American sorority, and snapped it up.

"It caught my eye ... because I'm in the program down at the Boys & Girls Club," Ciara said.

Other students struggled a little more to find the right books to bring home. Priscilla Jimenez, 15, wandered the store with an empty basket. She first checked out the Japanese comic books, but they were too expensive for her budget of $30. Then, she looked at romance novels, but they weren't "appropriate." Finally, she decided on a mystery novel as long as the murder isn't "too brutal."

Joel Ruiz, 17, a senior in Franklin's bioscience school, chose all nonfiction books, including a book in Spanish about interpreting dreams. He said he was surprised by how many Spanish books there are at the store.

Penelope Robinson, the store's community relations manager, said experiences like this are why Barnes & Noble wanted to partner with the district.

"These are the next generation of students who are going to college," she said. "I want them to look for the Barnes & Noble there."

But the bigger reason is to foster literacy and an excitement for reading, she said.

Phillips said the excitement has been apparent among students.

"When they walk in, they can barely keep their hands off the books."

HHARE@DemocratandChronicle.com

— Heather Hare
Democrat and Chronicle
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