Keystone grant puts thousands of books into Greencastle-Antrim classrooms

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
Destini Stouffer, Garland Schriver and Logan Cline investigate books that will be available to read this year. The middle school benefited from a grant that enhanced their reading program.

When seven pallets of books arrived at Greencastle-Antrim Middle School, theoretical ideals gave way to practical skills. Literacy coaches LuAnn Skutch and Jenelle Wagner pared the 8,000 tomes into plastic bins, by genre, for distribution to 25 classrooms. There the 300 books per teacher are now available to homeroom students, who will hopefully develop a lifelong love of reading, and improve their comprehension abilities.

The school district's $1 million Keystones to Opportunity grant allowed the coaches to develop this program, one of several directed to children from birth through 12th grade, to advance literacy skills.

"We have created The Reading Zone at the middle school, so that the teachers can have one-on-one literacy conversations with the students during anchor period," said Skutch. "It's awesome because they are not all language arts teachers. It's an ownership of literacy by all the teachers."

During the 20 minutes of anchor, the students will read the books they checked out in homeroom, but the follow-up is more structured than the previous Sustained Silent Reading. Wellness teacher Megan Barkdoll told her class that she would meet with them individually to make sure they understood what they were reading, not just moving their eyes across the pages.

The teachers will keep a file on each student, recording the books read and their understanding of the content. Later at team meetings, all of the child's teachers can work together to solve any reading problems that exist.

The books are sorted by category, such as biography, non-fiction, science fiction, quick read, and realistic fiction.

"The students get exposure to various genres," said Wagner. "New books have an energy to them that kids want to read, even if they are old titles with a new cover. And the more readers read, the better they become."

One morning the students were allowed to rifle through the fresh offerings, just to pique their interest in The Reading Zone. Jonathan Kenney examined a book outside his normal choice of topics.

"I usually read mythological books," he said. "I read every night."

Vanessa Mongan was also an independent reader at home. "I read a lot. I like horror and mystery."

The reading coaches formerly taught in the classroom, but the grant allowed them to take on the new positions, and long-term substitutes replaced them at the elementary school. They love their responsibilities, which have involved a significant amount of work.

"This is a chance to take what we did before on the road and collaborate with all the teachers," Skutch said.