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Red Carpet Readers


"The enthusiasm of the students and staff was really something," recalls Assistant Principal Barbara Pierce. "Everyone had worked very hard to make the event special, and as students entered the front doors and walked down the red carpet, they were brimming with excitement for the festivities ahead."

For "A Night at the Oscars," a local
video store loaned the school a cutout
of "Oscar" for posed photos.

It was "A Night at the Oscars" at Stevens Middle School in Pasco, Washington, and many of the students and nearly all staff members donned formal attire for the event that highlighted the connection between reading and the silver screen. The celebration was the latest take on the school's annual "Family Reading Night," and its theme was created by the students themselves.

"Each language arts teacher sent two representatives to the committee meeting where Lisa Arriaga, our literacy coach, helped students brainstorm overall themes and ideas for the event," explained Pierce. "After brainstorming, voting took place and the representatives took the information back to their classrooms, where teachers guided students in coming up with ideas for their particular room."

Allowing students to develop the themes of Stevens Middle School reading events is a long-standing tradition. Past themes designed by students included "Heroes and Villains," which played upon the role of conflict in literature and history, and "Reading Wonderland," in which each classroom highlighted a different theme or genre such as fairy tales, historical fiction, or technical reading and writing.

In some classrooms, the entire group of students got involved in preparing and presenting for the event, and others had smaller groups that took command of the project. At the sixth grade level, each student read a biography of an "historical celebrity" and became that individual in a "wax museum." Visitors pressed paper buttons on the students' costumes, and each "statue" came to life and told the story of a historical figure's life in the first person. The students took their roles very seriously, dressed in character, and memorized their lines to recite to audiences, even though it wasn't required.

Pierce remembers one student who dressed in a detailed medieval costume and shared impressive knowledge of the historical time period. His father accompanied the child to the event, costumed just as elaborately. The student was a "star" of the evening and drew exceptional positive attention. Later he shared that his family belongs to the local historical society, so the event was an opportunity for the entire family to bring expertise to school.

"The Twilight room was among the most popular, as Edwardmania was thick at this time," stated Pierce. "Students who visited this room were entered into a drawing to receive a copy of a book from the series, a highly coveted prize."

It is tradition at the annual literacy
event to send each and every participant
home with a new book.

For their part, the school's drama and computer teachers created activities that fit into the theme as well. The computer room was pre-loaded with Web sites that featured age-appropriate reading links and the school's parent portal, where parents could be trained to access their students' grades from their home computers. The drama teacher ran a session on careers in movie production aside from acting.

Another tradition for the literacy night is that every attendee receives a free book on the way out, even parents and siblings. During this evening, students had a "backstage pass" that they used as a guide to check off each room as they visited the "venues." When the students presented their completed passes at the book table, they were invited to select a free book to take home.

"The book giveaway for the children is always a big hit," Pierce observed. "Students spend a lot of time choosing their books and are gracious and appreciative of this gift. Stevens' free and reduced lunch rate hovers around the 90 percent mark, so having a favorite book at home is a big deal."

Pierce recalls meeting one mother who spoke limited English. She went to each child in the wax museum and gave him or her the chance to perform for her. She applauded and congratulated the kids, making them feel appreciated and valued for the work. When she left, she grinned widely, and with her free book in hand, thanked everyone on the staff.

A local bookstore donated some of the books that were distributed during "A Night at the Oscars." Pierce reports that many of the school's community partners were very generous. A local video store supplied movie posters and a gigantic cardboard "Oscar" cutout for the evening, with which many attendees posed for photographs. The local newspaper sent a reporter to give tips about how to conduct an interview and write up a story.

"I'm sure if we had asked for more help early on, our community partners would have thought of ideas we didn't even come up with!" Pierce added.

The ideas for articles in this Partners for Student Success series come from annual collections of Promising Partnership Practices by the National Network of Partnership Schools. Established by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, NNPS is dedicated to bringing together schools, districts, and states that are committed to developing and maintaining comprehensive programs of school-family-community partnerships.

"Based on more than a decade of research and the work of many educators, parents, students, and others, we know that it is possible for all elementary, middle, and high schools to develop and maintain strong programs of partnership," NNPS director Joyce L. Epstein told Education World.

NNPS provides a wide range of resources to help schools and school districts build strong partnerships. Click the links below to…

… learn more about how your school or district can join NNPS.

… find out about NNPS products and services.

… investigate research related to school, family, and community partnerships.

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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