We all know the benefits of reading in school. That’s not something I need to discuss with anyone coming here. We all spend endless hours planning and revising our reading blocks – figuring out how to squeeze in more independent reading time, how to have one more conference each day, how to build the conversations in our class and how to teach students to make reading strategies their own.
This year, I have not backed away from any of that but I have been intensely focused on building up my students’ lives as readers…outside of school. I know that we can spend hours reading and discussing our reading in our classroom but that if students haven’t internalized the deep desire to read everywhere they go, then what have I left them with? A bunch of strategies and some memories of great discussions and read alouds? No…I want more.
Our school is brilliantly located – in an urban/suburban hybrid neighborhood (seriously, can someone tell me what the proper demographic name for this type of neighborhood is?). Most houses have small yards and we can all still walk to a movie theater, a ton of diverse restaurants, a couple of parks and community centers and more! And best of all…our school shares the same parking lot as…OUR PUBLIC LIBRARY!! Does it get better? I think not!
I have worked with our incredible children’s librarian, the brilliant Desiree Fairooz, to blur the boundary between our classroom and the public library. As a class, we go every Friday. Even when it rains and snows and we have indoor recess…we bundle up and run across as fast as we can – while being safe of course! Even when we have a zillion things to catch up on. Even when we have to race back to make an assembly. Why? Because I might be the first one to introduce my kiddos to the public library – see M’s happy face when he got his first ever library card. Because I want them to see it as their home. Because if something is important, we do it. A lot. And we don’t sacrifice it.
My students come from a variety of backgrounds – cultures and languages and incomes and lives – but every single one of them sees themselves as a reader. Dylan, who can’t put his Harry Potter book down. Max who is new in the country and learning English and ASL at the same time while keeping up with his Spanish books. Aunima who is venturing into chapter books with one foot in. Efrata who realized that although she is a “pink, princess fairy girl”, she still loves the Origami Yoda series. Every one of these kids has had an epiphany in our public library. Every one of them has whined when we had to leave. And every one of them – every single one of them – has since visited the library on their own time, dragging their parents after school, signing up for the Paws to Read program to read to a dog or taking their younger sibling to a toddler story hour.
Our weekly field trips across the parking lot have been the best investment I could have made this year. They know the librarians by name, they know how to find what they need, they know their favorite corner to cuddle up with a book. They even feel so comfortable I have to remind them they can’t hang out behind the counter! This is no longer just the public library – this is their library. And no one can take that away from them!