October 22, 2011
City schools reading group grows, especially with boys
Scott Conroe/contributing photographer
Damon Carr, left, and Daniel Steve read on Thursday in the Cortland Junior-Senior High School media center as part of a new program that encourages reading.
Seventh-grader Damon Carr nestled into a stuffed chair Thursday at the Cortland Junior-Senior High School media center, studying page 413 of a 753-page novel.
He had read every page so far of “Breaking Dawn,” the third book in the bestselling Twilight trilogy; he had skimmed through parts of the first two books. The trilogy chronicles the romances of a mortal girl, a male vampire and a male werewolf.
Carr was one of the boys reading through second period as part of the school’s reading program, which encourages students in grades seven through 12 to read 20 books — and then keep reading.
The program uses software called Accelerated Reader, made by Renaissance Learning, that helps students measure their understanding by offering online quizzes on books.
The program began in September, the brainchild of head librarian Cindy Buerkle.
“It’s built off the literary framework throughout the school district, and accelerates it,” said Executive Principal Gregory Santoro, standing among the readers. “We wondered if the kids would sign up for it. Then the numbers climbed and it’s more like, do we have the room for it?”
Buerkle said 306 students have signed up so far, taking online quizzes that confirm they have read a certain book. Most gratifying: many of them are boys, who tend to read less than girls.
Books by Skaneateles resident Tim Green are popular among the students, which is why Buerkle scheduled him to speak at the school Tuesday.
Green is an attorney who starred at football for Liverpool High School, Syracuse University and the Atlanta Falcons. He writes about two books per year, and after years of writing legal thrillers, he has been producing a series of sports books for juveniles.
Green emphasizes that reading is better for the mind than watching TV or playing video games, and talks about how important reading was to him, as he often read Charles Dickens before athletic contests to quiet his nerves.
Green will talk to students in grades five through eight Tuesday morning at the school auditorium. He will present a program for the public at 6 p.m. that day in the school media center, signing his books and talking about writing.
Buerkle moved her office across the media center and reserved the old space for the readers, with several chairs, a computer and a table. The boys who gathered there Thursday, books in their laps, were mostly modified football players who wore their purple jerseys.
Carr said “Breaking Dawn” fit the latest section of his English class, with choices of mystery, horror or the sports novels by Green.
“Last year I read all but the last three books of Harry Potter,” said Carr, referring to the seven mega-selling novels about a boy wizard. Before that, he had read the Hidden series by Margaret Peterson Haddix, about a future where couples can have only two children while the third child in any family must live in hiding.
Classmate Nate Honour was deep into a nonfiction book about fast food. He said he was reading Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas series, about a young man who can see the dead, and had read almost every horror novel that Stephen King has written. His favorite: “Cujo,” about people trapped in a car by a rabid Saint Bernard dog.
Nearby, Daniel Steve delved into “The Prince of Mists,” a suspense novel, while William Pace was halfway through an autobiographical book by the late baseball star Mickey Mantle.
Buerkle said she has rearranged the school media center’s books into the kinds of sections found in book stores, such as sports — shelved by sport — and science fiction and chick lit.
Buerkle said the chick lit section, featuring books about teenage girls and women, has a social side.
“Two girls who don’t know each other will look at a book, start talking, and then one will give the other three titles to take a look at,” she said.
Buerkle said she has attracted students to the program partly through rewards such as prizes to be chosen in June, and slips that get the student an ice cream in the cafeteria.
The online quizzes allow teachers to make sure students are reading certain books, because teachers do not have time to be familiar with every book on the program’s reading list.
Buerkle said one boy who has struggled in school took a book quiz and scored a 100, which excited him. He told her, “I like reading.”
Sitting next to the seventh-graders, senior Angelique Simmons was deep into a book titled “Freak,” about a high school girl who becomes an outcast.
Simmons said she most enjoys the novels of Ellen Hopkins, which focus on teenagers struggling against substance abuse. She said Hopkins’ use of short, strong sentences seemed like poetry, and her portrayal of teens felt true.
Students have checked out 1,413 titles since the school year started.
Buerkle said sometimes, such as seventh period, the library is packed with students from the reading program, filling every seat.
“It’s a good problem to have,” she said.
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