After they met a challenge to read 100 books in the month of February, nearly as many students celebrated with a party Friday afternoon; staff members are gearing up for a bigger reading challenge next month. Already, the student participation is growing from previous events.
School librarian Becky Brown said the school hosted a similar “Reading Romance” contest last February, in which students who read a book and completed a report were entered into a drawing for two movie tickets and a box of Valentine’s chocolates. This February’s turnout was about double last year’s. Now faculty are hoping for a quicker turnaround. In April, the school’s approximately 500 students will be challenged to read 200 books.
Reading has been a major focus for Anniston in recent years. After eight years in which students’ collective reading skills have lagged, the school finally met the adequate yearly progress benchmark on state exams last year.
Based on the results the school is seeing on practice tests, Principal Sherron Jinadu said she expects the success to continue this year. The strategies employed daily by English faculty are paying off, she said, including daily “bell ringers” — short activities at the start of each class that target a new reading skill each day.
Beginning next year, students will have to pass the ACT plus Writing test rather than the state graduation exam under the state Education Department’s Plan 2020, which focuses on college and career-readiness.
“When they go to college, this is something they are going to be expected to do: to read, to analyze what they’ve read,” she said.
Jinadu said the school staff is trying to build on that progress and encourage students to read not only inside, but outside the classroom as well.
“It’s been amazing to see students walking around with books in their hands because we don’t want students to just waste good opportunities or good time doing nothing,” she said. “We’d rather for them to be reading and using those opportunities to better themselves.”
This effort also includes turning students into library users outside of the school. Brown said the high school has a good working relationship with the Anniston-Calhoun County Public Library and students have been attending programs there.
Library Director Teresa Kiser said that with the opening of the library’s new teen room, the staff is beginning to see a slow, progressive increase in circulation of its young adult books.
Programming and increases in availability of graphic novels, DVDs and other items are drawing students into the library, she said, and popular books are coming off the shelves.
“Once they read a popular book,” she said, “they’ll come back and ask, ‘What do you have that is like this?’”
Several of the students at Friday’s celebration were fans of vampires and other fantasy works, but Danterius Kelly opted for something more relatable for the challenge, choosing Sharon M. Draper’s “Forged by Fire” about a boy in a bad home environment.
“He felt like he was in the world on his own — and sometimes that’s how I feel — like he didn’t have no one to turn to,” Kelly said.
Many participants are avid readers. Junior Andrew Bothwell said he reads to increase his vocabulary.
“Some young kids nowadays, it’s more street talk — I like to stretch it so that when I talk to somebody that’s important, they won’t look at me like someone that just came out of the street, I’d like for them to look at me like somebody they’d want to put in their job interview.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.