Oakland Mills Middle gets all aboard to read

Inspiration: `Railroad' piques pupils' interest.

April 16, 2003|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

How do you interest middle school pupils in reading for fun, with so much else - friends, video games, sports and television - competing for their free time? Lori Frederick, media specialist at Oakland Mills Middle School in Columbia, had an idea to encourage children to read for pleasure.

Inspired by a journal article, she recently donned a conductor hat, decorated the library to look like a train and invited English classes to read there during a two-day event.

She and an assistant arranged wooden chairs to resemble a train car, punched train tickets, handed out pretzels and played songs from Buddy Davis' Rhythm of the Rails.

Pupils could read a book of their own or select one from a cart that Frederick pushed down the "aisle." Each English class spent about 25 minutes reading in the library.

"It was cool," said Emmanuel McPhearson, 11, a sixth-grader.

"So many of our middle school students stop reading for pleasure by the time they reach middle school because they have so many commitments and activities outside of school. With MTV and video games, our students are losing their love of books," Frederick explained before the event.

"As a media specialist, it is my job to carry high-quality materials that will make the students want to come in, browse and check out books. The more I can get the children into the media center, the more likely it is that they may see a book that interests them," she said.

The event at Oakland Mills was part of the National Education Association's sixth Read Across America celebration. Read Across America calls on schools and communities to sponsor events to encourage reading, in honor of the March birthday of author Dr. Seuss. The official celebration was March 3. Oakland Mills had standardized testing that week, Frederick said, so its reading celebration was scheduled for March 26 and 27.

The first day, she welcomed pupils to the "Oakland Mills Express" as they filed into the library and took seats on the make-believe train.

"The train is going where you want to go," she told one seventh-grade English class.

"Like home?" one boy quipped.

Media assistant Janet Jean punched the pupils' train tickets, while Frederick rolled a cart of books for those who didn't bring a book or magazine.

Seventh-grader Scott Bacon, 12, had two books, The Doom Brigade, a fantasy novel, and Ultimate Spider-Man, a graphic novel (a longer version of a comic book). Scott said he was happy to have time to read during the school day.

Raminka Bundick, 14, who went to the event with her eighth-grade English class, also appreciated the change in schedule. "I don't read as much as I should," she said. She chose the novel Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.

Her English teacher, Erin Clarke, said middle-schoolers are reading for pleasure more than they might realize: Many read newspapers, magazines, novels and Internet Web pages. "But they don't like to admit it or they don't connect that reading magazines and newspapers is reading for pleasure," she said.

Eighth-grader Zack Soesbee, 13, said he likes to read sports and skateboarding magazines and war books. He brought the book Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers, a novel about the Vietnam War. "I read sometimes for pleasure, but I read schoolbooks, too," he said.

Teachers and school personnel also took time to read, including Howard County School Superintendent John R. O'Rourke, who dropped by March 27 and chose a book about the Sept. 11 attacks.

English teacher Jeanne Longford brought Bob Schieffer's This Just In: What I Couldn't Tell You on TV.

As they were leaving the Oakland Mills Express, several of her seventh-graders checked out the library books they were reading.

Frederick was delighted. "That's what I want: kids checking out books," she said.

By the end of the two-day event, pupils had checked out 106 books and magazines, two to three times more than is typical.

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