RSMS

 

Eighth-grade Royal Spring Middle School students listen as language arts teacher Celeste Lehr reads aloud to them. The book “ReStart” was chosen for the whole school to read because it explores the topics of bullying and compassion for others.

 

There’s a school-wide book club of sorts organized at Royal Spring Middle School. 

All 26 of the classes are reading “ReStart” by Gordon Korman. The One Book /One School concept is a national program presented by Read to Them, a nonprofit organization promoting family literacy. The concept includes all teachers reading the same book aloud to their students for a few minutes each day, according to the school’s website. 

The main purpose of One Book /One School is to create a shared reading experience across an entire school community and to spark a community-wide conversation that can take place in the hallway, cafeteria, bus and at home. The organization believes children who are read to learn to read more easily and become better readers and that literacy skills provide the basis for a lifetime of learning and productivity.

RSMS language arts department chair Celeste Lehr agreed with the program concept and goals and introduced the idea to RSMS. The program provides an opportunity for everyone to have something in common to talk about; teachers, students and even parents can all join a common conversation.

“The story is about a young student who bullies other kids until he himself becomes the target of the bullying,” said Lehr. “This novel was chosen because it will encourage open communication with students about bullying, empathy/compassion, accepting differences and inclusiveness.”   

The students themselves like the program and are responding to the book’s message. 

“It’s been a good read so far; we’re in middle school and bullying is going to happen,” said Caleb Brock, an eighth-grader in Lehrs’ language arts class. “I think the book does a good job of talking about bullying and how it affects not just the person being bullied but the other people around them.” 

Korman has written over 90 books, the first published when he himself was in middle school. The impetus for the book, according to Korman, is his fascination with the question of nature vs. nurture. When the book’s main character, Chase Ambrose falls off a garage roof he loses his memory of who he is and doesn’t remember what kind of relationship he has with his middle school peers. His personality slate is wiped clean and Korman explores the choices the young man must make about his character. 

“Chase now has the opportunity to ‘restart’ the way he treats other people but will he choose to treat people with respect or will he ultimately go back to being the bully he was to begin with?” said Korman. “People are still treating him like he was and now he feels pressure to continue to bully.” 

The school-wide book project has produced some surprising results, Lehr said.

“The big ideas in the novel have prompted kindness initiatives to start throughout the school,” said Lehr.

Students have initiated the “Kindness Krew” under the leadership of the school counselor. This group of students meets regularly to discuss kindness initiatives that will improve school culture. They recently placed Post-it notes with positive messages on student lockers, Lehr said.

The program is new so Lehr is not sure what the title of the next book will be but hopes the school will start a new book this spring, she said. 

“By reading aloud to students, it will allow these conversations to happen organically while encouraging us to intentionally teach our students about showing empathy, and making sure that we are includers and not excluders.” 

Parents are also encouraged to read the book themselves, Lehr said.

 “We want parents to have conversations at home with their children about the book and what they are learning from it.”

 

Jackie Anders can be reached at janders@news-graphic.com.

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