By LINDSAY CAREY
Last year, Southington High School started with one book club.
Today, SHS Literacy Specialist and Teacher of the Year Jennifer Paul is leading 11 book clubs for students at the school and says the clubs just keep growing.
“This year, it’s crazy. I can’t keep up,” said Paul. “There are just so many groups and we just keep getting more. More kids want to join, more kids want to read. It’s unbelievable.”
The clubs meet with peers in their grade level to discuss modern books in genres that interest them. Everyone in the group is invited to make suggestions of books they would like to read and discuss with their peers.
One club of about a dozen seniors met this week to discuss the novelm, “Attachments,” by Rainbow Rowell. Paul not only read the book along with the students and led the discussion; she also provided snacks such as Oreos, tortilla chips, and Capri Sun Juice Drinks.
The club discussed much more than whether they liked or disliked the book. They openly shared in a casual way their analysis of characters, the author’s motives, turning points in the tale, and the conclusion of the book.
Student book club leader Ashley Christensen, who chose “Attachments,” said that she is conscious of making sure that the club doesn’t feel like another English class and that everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts. Christensen said she offered a couple of book titles as suggestions for the group before finally landing on one. She was pleased to find everyone enjoyed her choice.
“I think it’s cool, because we have to read things like ‘The Scarlet Letter’ or ‘The Crucible’ or ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and it’s just not exciting,” said senior Mack Golos. “This is like a modern topic that students can relate to.”
Paul said students enjoy that the book clubs are all about reading for pleasure. The students in these groups choose books on topics they enjoy and can relate to rather than reading something just because it was assigned.
Another member of the book club Bailey Potter said sometimes she dreads reading certain books for school, but when she was reading “Attachments” she found herself up late at night trying to finish just one more chapter of the book.
Although the students may not like reading the classic English books for their literature classes, Paul said the book clubs are improving their ability to read those books by increasing students’ reading stamina. According to her, there are students who were reading below grade level that are spending their weekends reading books at their grade level and taking notes, because they are excited about what they’re reading.
“They’re able to read more in less time. They’re able to enjoy and understand what they’re reading,” said Paul. “So when they get to their English books they’re more ready to meet the challenge of those books.”
The book clubs at SHS are also helping the students socially, because they have a group of people now that they have gotten to know through the book club. Paul said that sometimes teachers will participate in the book club meetings, which allow students to form better relationships with them as well.
“When we see each other in the hallway, we’ll stop and say to each other, ‘Hey, did you finish the book yet?’ or ‘Hey, what do you think about this scene?’ because we have that shared experience,” said Paul.
Paul is now taking the book clubs even further by giving the students the opportunity to mentor younger children. After speaking with the principal of Thalberg School, Paul has invited some of the book clubs to collaborate with fourth grader students at Thalberg for a virtual book club.
She said each SHS book club that participates will be assigned a fourth grade class at Thalberg and they will meet by video chatting. After initially meeting online, the group all will read a fourth grade level book. Using Google Docs, the high school students will post questions for the fourth graders to answer.
After corresponding about the book chapter by chapter, the fourth graders will be invited to SHS for a field trip. The mentors and mentees finally will meet face to face and may take a tour of the Agricultural Science department at SHS to see some of the animals. The virtual book club collaboration experience will challenge the fourth grade students and also provide leadership experience for the SHS students that can be put on their resumes or can be discussed in future job interviews.