Allyson McHugh: Director of ELA for Waltham Public Schools and co-chair of the One School, One Story program
Emilie Perna: English teacher at Waltham High School and co-chair of the One School, One Story program
Kendall Boninti: currently Library Teacher at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School and formerly Library Teacher at Waltham High School and co-chair of the One School, One Story program
The Priorities of the Program
In order to maintain the integrity of our program, we focus on these priorities.
- It brings people together through year-round programming.
- It advances equity and accessibility by putting books in the hands of all students. Books are purchased in multiple languages and formats, and reading support materials are provided via the WalthamReads.org website.
- It gives ALL students (and teachers) a voice. Students vote on the book and drive the programming agenda. Last year, we added a 24 Hour Read-a-thon, where 64 students selected our all-school read from a “Sweet Sixteen” bracket.
- It connects reading to the real world through workshops, assemblies, and lessons that connect the themes of the book to real-world issues. The texts we have read as a community are not about assessment, but about topics our students are faced with everyday on the news and in their communities, but do not have the space to discuss. We offer the space for these topics and a lens through which to see the world.
- It’s interdisciplinary. The summer reading committee is made up of a diverse group of teachers, school counselors, administrators, public librarians, and students. Together, the committee works to develop meaningful programming that transcends the boundaries of traditional academic disciplines.
- Its grounded in data, which the admins love. A summer reading survey is administered to students and staff every year to gather information on participation rates, programming, and ideas for the future.
- It’s fun! We always launch our all school read with a week-long event, but it changes every year because the events are inspired by the themes of the text. One year, students used forensic techniques and followed a Twitter Scavenger Hunt to identify the “thief” who stole the school trophies (Serial). Another year, students participated in a video game tournament and an 80s Day (Ready Player One). Most recently, we celebrated our diverse community in a One Waltham Week by creating a Poet-tree and a “Hello, stranger..” photo booth to bring us together (All American Boys). When students return to school in the fall, we focus on events that draw directly from the text. We typically have a One School, One Story Day, where every class in every content area addresses the book or a theme/ topic from the book. This past year, we pulled teachers together to plan and co-teach interdisciplinary workshops for students. We also have hosted authors for presentations and a lunch with students.
Library Teacher as Leader
Typically, the library teacher waits for direction from the ELA staff on summer reading, but in the One School model, the library teacher needs to play a lead role. This position affords a flexible schedule and an expertise on award winning books, especially YA, and books of student interest. Moreover, he or she is a person with a strong working partnership with teachers across content areas. The library teacher first recruits committee members, and then becomes the point person, who communicates the goals of the program and fields concerns.
The library teacher is not simply the point person for the staff, but is the first line of communication for students, since the library should be a platform for community events. In our four years, the library has hosted thematic movie nights, a gaming tournament, a lunch with the authors of All American Boys, and the 24 Hour Read-a-thon. We use the library’s space and resources as a commercial for the program. Our signage, displays, and social media communicate upcoming events and build excitement for the program.
Everything mentioned thus far is cheap. Movie nights and signage cost very little. The big money is in the books and presenters, and ultimately those are the key elements of the program's success. As a point person for the program, the library teacher can write grants and seek out community partners. For example, we were able to start the program because we wrote to and were awarded grant money from The Waltham Education and Beyond Foundation. Their contribution, coupled with our own fundraising (selling books to the community and a teacher trivia contest), kept us afloat for the first two years. We even partnered with a local grocery store, who donated drinks and snacks for our events. Ultimately, however, these efforts were not enough to cover the cost of 1800 books. This past year, the district committed themselves to fully supporting the program financially; the school paid for all 1800 copies of All American Boys, which meant that we could focus on improving the program, instead of how to pay for the books. The administration supports One School, One Story now, but if we had waited for the funds four years ago, it never would have come.
This One School approach is time consuming and expensive, which is why administrative support is important. We believe that in order for the program to be equitable and successful, every child must receive a copy of the book. Not just that, every child deserves a copy of the book in a format that meets their needs, which means that students must also have access to digital copies of downloadable ebooks and audiobooks, and copies in multiple languages. Administrators do not always understand the importance of this level of accessibility, but it is the committee’s responsibility to recognize and identify the needs of students and to advocate for them.
Ultimately, the director/ department head, principal, and superintendent do not necessarily have to understand every part of the process, but they need to believe in the priorities of the program and trust the teacher leaders. It can be a huge jump for administrators to think of summer reading as the responsibility of everyone, not just the English department. Moreover, it can be difficult to let go of the canon, especially if they are solely focused on the traditional understanding of rigor. For us, the switch from a list of classics-- and newer classics-- to one fresh, thought-provoking text increased rigor, essentially because it increased reading. Four years ago, approximately 50% of our student body read; now we are above 70% readership.
What have we learned four years later?
You cannot do this alone. While leaders are important, and even necessary, a committed group of teachers and staff members need to agree on the priorities, make time to read, and continually promote all events of the program.
And it has to be fun. The spring launch builds excitement, pulls the community together, and reinforces a culture of reading that does not revolve around passing a test. Actually, that’s the key. The spring launch is fun, but ultimately the program is fun for students because it is relevant. In the 23rd hour of our 24 Hour Read-a-thon, one student remarked that All American Boys had to be our all school read because “it [was] time.”