UNION — A reading program at Sims Middle School is not only helping students improve their reading skills but also teaching them life lessons about character and showing kindness to others.
For the past two years, the school day at Sims has begun with the reading of a chapter from a book over the school’s public address system. The school’s students each have their own copy of the book and read along in a program that not only encourages them to read but also to take the lessons they learn from the books they are reading and apply them to their own lives.
“We have school wide read aloud here,” Jennifer Tazerouti, school librarian, said. “Last year we read ‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio and ‘Schooled’ by Gordon Korman. This was a huge success last year.”
Learning Specialist Kathryn Sommer-Gough, who, along with her sister and fellow Learning Specialist Kristi Sommer, has read the books to the students, said read aloud complements the school’s efforts to combat bullying.
“We actually started the program to go along with our OLWEUS anti-bullying program,” Sommer-Gough said. “The theme of Wonder is ‘choose kind.’ It’s kind of what we encourage in the kids. Instead of saying don’t bully, we say choose kind.”
Tazerouti said Sims’ Read Aloud program began when she read Wonder and then let the school’s teachers read it as well.
“I read the book the year before and I started passing it around to the teachers at the end of the school year,” Tazerouti said. “A bunch of us read it and we saw such a huge connection with the two programs. The content of Wonder is so uplifting. In essence it’s character education.”
Learning Specialist Lisa Morrow said that both Wonder and “Out of My Mind,” the book the students are reading at the present time, makes the reader “think about what kind of person you are.”
Sommer-Gough said that the students connected with the characters in the novels and the school used those connections to encourage them to treat others with kindness.
“The school becomes very invested with the characters in the novels,” Sommer-Gough said. “They don’t like that those characters are being hurt. So we try to transfer that to don’t hurt real people.”
Tazerouti said the qualities the characters display in dealing with the situations they find themselves also inspire the students.
“In both books we read last year and the one we’re reading this year, the characters who are being bullied or being an outcast have personal qualities that help them overcome that,” Tazerouti said. “Everybody has some kind of challenge and we can use these characters to find inspiration, strength, comfort, company, that you are not alone.”
Even as the characters and their stories told through the books are helping build character, Tazerouti said they are also building a sense of community at the school while improving reading skills.
“We’re building community with the school wide Read Aloud at the same time as teaching character education through the books,” Tazerouti said. “We’re modeling good reading and that helps develop our students’ reading skills and their ability to discuss literature.
“That in itself has exceptional value because when you are discussing a piece of literature and you have a disagreement or an agreement and you learn to discuss it in a respectful way and an educational way,” he said. “You are able to have not just an emotional discussion but an educated discussion.”
Morrow said that in selecting the books for the program, the school looks for stories that are age appropriate and have themes and situations the students can relate to.
“We look at what would be appropriate for all students,” Morrow said. “We want to consider the students at the most advanced level and those with the most severe disabilities.
“We’re looking for a book that all these children could relate to, that has middle school themes, and what is important to the students,” she said. “We’re looking for commonalities, for something that brings students together, that’s inclusive.”
The program has also encouraged students to try their hand at writing. After reading Wonder, students wrote another chapter for the book from the perspective of the Daisy the dog character.
Even as the program continues in the school, Tazerouti, Sommer-Gough, and Morrow expressed the hope that parents will make the program part of their home life, reading and discussing the books being read at Sims with their children.
“We really want parents to discuss the books at home,” Tazerouti said. “The students visualize when they retell it to their parents. It’s good learning practice, good thinking skills.”
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org