“This is the first book I have enjoyed reading in my 15 years,” said a student in the Class of 2015 in reference to Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven. It is the sort of statement that every teacher longs to hear and one that may well signal the conversion of a non-reader into one who loves the printed word.
There is a change in the air, and it is as real as the warmth of the unseasonably warm February sun upon the skin. Students at Verbum Dei High School are reading – reading for their English grades and for pleasure. It is a gradual transition and not one without its bumps and resistance, but a “culture of literacy” is breathing its life in the classrooms and corridors of the campus and in the abodes and apartments of VDHS students.
“My sons are reading more than they play video games!” a stunned parent of twin Verb sophomores told me at parent teacher conferences in February of 2011.
The numerical evidence is provided through Scholastic’s Reading Counts! program, which debuted in the 2010-2011 school year as a pilot program with the freshman and sophomore classes. A generous grant from City National Bank’s Reading is the Way Up Fund allowed the program to be implemented school wide in 2011-2012. Since August, 2011, acting on their own in a completely self-motivated program, Verbum Dei students have collectively read more than 34.3 million words! This reading of fiction and non-fiction titles is in addition to assigned readings in various classes.
“This is the first book that I have picked up and finished on my own,” said Omar Melendrez, a sophomore last year. The student has since been recommended to and enrolled in Honors English III, where he currently is reading the imposing Moby Dick by Herman Melville.
“What still impresses me is how a book can drastically change someone’s life,” wrote student Oscar Partida in a reading journal entry for his English II class. “Books are very powerful.” A reflective journaling activity, coupled with the students’ independent reading, helps to hone active-readership skills including prediction, finding connections, questioning, and evaluation of character motivations.
At Verb we are taking on the leviathan of student apathy toward reading with all the determination and resolve of Melville’s Captain Ahab. “Call me Ishmael” indeed.