Sunday, June 23, 2024

Teens during a March 31 Read-a-Thon in the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School library. (Photo: Emily Piper-Vallillo)

The dystopian novel “Scythe” will be read by students, teachers and the entire Cambridge Rindge and Latin School community this summer.

The Neal Shusterman work was announced as the winner of the year’s CRLS Read-a-Thon – a 16-hour event held in the campus library March 31 in which 90 teenagers gathered to read nine books before selecting one the entire school will read – the One School, One Story book.

Starting at 8 a.m. on a Friday, students read for an hour, followed by a 15-minute break, followed by another hour of reading. They repeated this process until midnight. Through debate and voting, students eliminated books until only “Scythe” remained.

Everyone at the school – the students, teachers, paraprofessionals, cafeteria staff, security team, custodians and principal – will get a free copy of the book. Reading one together builds community, advances equity and accessibility, and centers students’ voices, according to members of the Massachusetts School Library Association.

The readers

Nine books compete to be the one read by the entire school; one gets eliminated almost immediately in an early, rapid-fire round of competition. (Photo: Emily Piper-Vallillo)

Selected from more than 200 applicants, the teen readers were diverse in age, race, gender and a host of other metrics. Some were extroverts and others introverts. Some identified strongly as readers, others did not.

“We need all of these different perspectives looking at these books,” CRLS library teacher Emily Houston said. “We need to hear from all of them about what book is the best one for our community.”

The number of readers is up from 80 last year, defying a trend of reading for fun becoming less common among teens, according to the Pew Research Center.

Kendall Boninti, a CRLS instructional technology specialist, talks with Read-a-Thon students. (Photo: Emily Piper-Vallillo)

Students are unlikely to become lifelong readers if they don’t develop a love of reading, according to the National Literacy Trust. Waltham High School librarians said they increased student body participation in the One School, One Story program to 70 percent from 50 percent over the course of four years.

Developing a love of reading is part of what this event is about, said Kendall Boninti, CRLS instructional technology specialist and one of the leaders of the One School, One Story program.

“This event is about building community and joy,” Boninti said. “It’s hard to measure joy, but it’s what school should be about.”

Everybody hates summer reading

Calvin, left, is a CRLS sophomore and One School, One Story planning committee member. (Photo: Emily Piper-Vallillo)

Taking a full school day to read for fun – or do anything for fun – is almost unheard of in the wake of the pandemic. Dire discussions of learning loss have led to federal campaigns for high-dose tutoring and increased instructional time.

But the pressure of test scores and the need to “catch up” was nowhere to be found in the CRLS library.

On the day of the read-a-thon, multicolored streamers hung from the ceiling. A photo booth was outlined in balloons. Students grabbed goofy glasses, stick-on mustaches and curly wigs from prop buckets and wore them throughout the day.

Each reader was a member of a team, and each team was given a name chosen by its members. Teams included the Mega Minds, the Goldfishes, Colonel Mustard and Team Killer Kermit. Some groups read silently to themselves, others aloud to each other.

One student curled up in a lawn chair (on loan from a CRLS teacher), another propped their book against a squishmallow and snapped on noise-canceling headphones. Adults joined in.

Games and toys keep participants lively between reading periods. (Photo: Emily Piper-Vallillo)

Between chunks of reading, students stretched and chatted. They grabbed board games from a pile at the center of the library, ate snacks, hula hooped and searched for teacher bitmojis hidden around the library.

In the evening, they were treated to a performance by the School of Honk band, a dance party and cookie decorating.

Everything about the event was meant to be fun, Boninti said, because the CRLS library teachers understand that summer reading has a bad reputation.

“Everybody hates summer reading,” Boninti said.

The CRLS library staff fights this stigma. There is no assignment attached to reading the One School, One Story book, Boninti said.

“No matter what the book is, we are going to make it fun,” Houston said. “We are going to make the launch fun and the reading fun.”

It is fun, as evidenced by the number of repeat readers. Calvin – a CRLS sophomore and One School, One Story planning committee member – is participating for a second year.

“Summer reading can be boring,” but the read-a-thon is not, Calvin said.

Student voice

Read-a-Thon books compete in a bracket to become the summer’s One School, One Story choice. (Photo: Emily Piper-Vallillo)

In an era in which parent voice dominates discussion of what students should and shouldn’t read, the CRLS read-a-thon centers the opinions of students. “This is all about student voice in helping us choose the book,” Houston said.

Students are encouraged to share opinions about what they read in various ways. They can make a pitch for or against a book, or write their thoughts on poster paper.

One student gave the novel “Furia” by Yamile Saied Méndez a B-minus. “Eh, it’s all right, but it doesn’t have the page-turning aspect that’ll really keep people invested,” they explained.

Students offer comments on their reading over the course of 16 hours. (Photo: Emily Piper-Vallillo)

Another student gave “Truly Devious” by Maureen Johnson an “A,” crediting its “really good plot twists!”

Other students chatted about the book they were reading with Boninti.

“We got the worst book ever! I feel like I’m gonna DNF it. I wanted that one,” she said, pointing to the “Weight of Blood” by Tiffany D. Jackson. It got eliminated in the first rapid-fire round. (“DNF” refers to “did not finish” reading.)

Building community

The Read-a-Thon gets students talking with each other about books, CRLS library teacher Caryn Rickert says. (Photo: Emily Piper-Vallillo)

The read-a-thon and community read gives students the opportunity to talk about books, CRLS library teacher Caryn Rickert said.

“These kids lost so much time because of Covid, and they deserve to be able to have fun with friends and read books,” Rickert said. One School, One Story “gives them a chance to have that community. We fought to have some kids here, finding them a way to get home at the end of the night. We want to let kids feel like they have a community regardless of the book.”

Rickert remembered one student who kept popping up at the library to talk with staff about the books they were reading. “I love talking about books, and I’m happy to talk with students about books all the time,” Rickert said. “But I also wanted this student to have other kids to talk with about books. This event lets that happen.”

Readers are members of teams, which are named by their members. (Photo: Emily Piper-Vallillo)

The read-a-thon also gives students a taste of what reading is like for adults, Houston said.

“When you read in your life, you want to talk about it. You don’t sit down and write an English paper. You talk to people about it. That’s how adults really read books,” Houston said. “It’s about bringing us together as a community around the experience of reading.”

What’s to come

Though it’s settled that “Scythe” will be the school read for 2023, more community events are coming. MIT will sponsor book launch events in May and June that are meant to get students excited to read the book.

Launch events depend on the book chosen, Houston said. But like last year, the library teachers will probably welcome everyone to school one day by handing them a copy of the book.