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Guest Post: How a High School Improved Reading by Building Little Free Libraries

busLast summer, I became a Penny Kittle convert. I originally didn’t know what I was signing up for, but something kept driving me to be sure I was where she was. Turns out, it’s been the best hunch of my teaching career. The mind shift I was searching for. A complete game-changer. And this is year eighteen.

After 2 ½ days with Penny, I spent the rest of my summer trying to keep up with my churning brain. I wrote more than I have since I was a slightly over dramatic, totally drowning-in-love teen. I read. And I read. And I read. I rediscovered that lust for story I had almost forgotten. I freed myself from the idea that pleasure reading was fluff and gripped the concept of reading what speaks to me as a means of improvement – just like I would soon ask my students to do.

In the midst of my mid-career crisis (maybe crisis is too harsh?), I found a tweet about the site littlefreelibrary.org. The various clever wooden boxes built for books captivated me. I loved the idea of a take-one-leave-one system designed to build community. What fun! I wanted one! Maybe a home project with my own children? Then, I had a thought. What if we put these book boxes in the hallway at our high school? What if this could be the reading take-over Penny Kittle encouraged? So, on my wild whim, I retweeted the link with that very suggestion.

Soon (which means mere seconds in the Twitter world), my teacher peers of all disciplines — math, sharkscience, history, technology, world languages — responded with enthusiasm! They wanted to build wooden cubbies! They wanted to donate books! They were all on board! So, the fun began…

In an August inservice session, I presented the idea to the full faculty, highlighting the importance of choice-reading in ALL classrooms. I used so many of Kittle’s words in an effort to begin a movement. We have to get all of our kids reading – the rich, the poor, the gifted, the challenged, even the ones who don’t eat their vegetables. And, in a school as diverse and unique as ours, we couldn’t wait another second. Of course, there was one small glitch; I didn’t know or have the means yet to build the little libraries. But I knew we could.

Following my first session, our new theater tech teacher immediately approached me, and he offered to have his tech class build the first set! I cried. I usually do at most sentimental things, but I just didn’t expect this outpouring. Books began to appear in my classroom from teachers and then parents. Some opted to write an inscription inside their favorite books, explaining to the future reader the special significance of that particular tale.

#hebronreads was born.

The theater tech class created the first five Book Nooks, as they are now called, from lumber and Slide2supplies donated by our community. In true theater style, the Nooks have flare – a shark, an Alice in Wonderland, a school bus, the Parthenon, and, of course, a book! All student created! All on pedestals in various niches in our halls. At our fall open house night, books poured in from parents who heard our call to promote literacy, and books continue to appear in my classroom like gifts from the Tooth Fairy.

Students in our advertising and marketing classes competed to create a campaign for the program. On World Read Aloud Day in March, we paused to read to our students, and we passed out bookmarks and talked books during lunches. Students have daily choice-reading time in math classes and business classes in addition to English classes. Another book drive is slated during our spring football game in May. A spring literacy night with former Hebron High School grad now YA author Lindsay Cummings is in talks.

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This is only the beginning.  

In my hopes and dreams, we will build more Book Nooks and litter the building with choices. We will continue the book drives until all classrooms have some sort of libraries. We will keep talking reading and promoting ideas via @hebronreads. And one day, when we are feeling pretty confident in our literacy push, we will make Nooks and take them filled with books to neighboring schools who need more stories in their lives too. Hebron High School is now a thriving community of readers, and it is truly glorious!

Parent quote:

“My son has always loved to read (‘loved’ is probably an understatement), so when he found these books in Hebron’s hallways, he was very excited.  He came home telling me what a neat thing this was — books for the taking, any book, all kinds. Once he understood the program, he commented on what a great idea . . . read a book, replace a book, or just bring it back. Great idea, Hebron!”    Carolyn Sherry

Donna Friend teaches at Hebron High School in Carrollton, Texas. She is making readers out of English III students and leads her department into the chaos of educational risk-taking. Currently, she is honored to be her campus as well as the Lewisville Independent School District’s Secondary Teacher of the Year, an accolade that, despite her 18 years of teaching, she doesn’t yet feel old enough to have earned! Her current favorite book is Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere, and she is practicing being a regular reader and writer along with her students. She has a 9 year old son, a 6 year old daughter, a hubby, two cats, and a few fish. She once dreamed a young adult novel and still regrets not writing it down immediately after waking. Find Donna on Twitter @mrs_friend

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3 thoughts on “Guest Post: How a High School Improved Reading by Building Little Free Libraries

  1. Stacey Shubitz May 12, 2015 at 9:15 pm Reply

    What an incredible initiative! Thanks for showing us how Little Free Libraries can be inspiring in the world at-large AND in schools!.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Donna May 8, 2015 at 1:29 pm Reply

    Gosh, thank you so much for your kind words, Erika! The snowball that #hebronreads has become absolutely amazes me! I am still in shock how it has been embraced and where it has gone. I know we are all empowered by the initiative too. We started so small. Now we know we can do anything! Thank you, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Erika B. May 8, 2015 at 8:58 am Reply

    Donna,

    Wow. Now, that’s an understatement.

    I am moved, humbled, and in complete awe of #hebronreads. What an initiative that has students, staff, and parent support propelling the reading lives of your youth. The fact that #hebronreads is a school-wide initiative; both in the creation and the participation, is nothing short of spectacular. I cannot wait to see the other Book Nooks your innovative students create…keep us posted!

    With deep admiration,
    Erika

    Like

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