Grants help MMS students start a new chapter in their reading ventures

MARSHALL – Eighth-grade students at Marshall Middle School are reaping the benefits of a Pride in the Tiger / Marshall PTO grant that allowed them to have access to age-appropriate books in their classrooms.

Eighth-grade language arts teachers Chris Shaffer and Emily Dorschner applied together for the district grant, and received $500 from the PTA and $500 from the Pride in the Tiger organizations.

“We really appreciate their support and willingness to provide that money,” Dorschner said. “We tried to buy high-interest books for them. We looked at adolescent book reading lists and talked to the kids. And it’s just been wonderful to see the kids excited about the books. It’s a really great opportunity for us and the kids.”

Shaffer pointed out that eighth-grade students seem to be caught in-between reading levels and for that reason, they would benefit from hand-chosen titles.

“They’re at an age where they’re kind of in-between, and we wanted to make sure we selected books that appealed to eighth-grade students who are becoming high schoolers but are not that interested in the really mature themes of some of the high school books,” Shaffer said. “We wanted to just look and try to find books that fit them.”

The two grantwriters acknowledge that the MMS library provides a lot of good titles but that the eighth-grade class includes 150 students, which is a large number to try and meet the needs of.

“Our library does a great job, and they have a lot of great books there, too, but it’s a fifth- through eighth-grade library,” Shaffer said. “So to get the kind of books that our kids really like and are interested in has been great. We were able to use that money to help supplement it and come up with some really good titles and really good books.”

Dorschner agreed and noted that there were also great benefits to targeting eighth-graders interest specifically.

“There’s more motivation to read since they’re high-interest books,” she said. “Sometimes the subject matter is a little mature for a fifth- through eighth-grade library. Obviously, what fifth- and sixth-graders might be reading isn’t the same thing as what an eighth-grader might be interested in.”

The teachers said they also tried hard to select books that both boys and girls would enjoy.

“For boys, it’s hard to find books about sports, or even other things that interest boys,” Shaffer said. “So we spent a lot of time trying to find those things and hoping we get their interest. We wanted to have the students come in and enjoy the books enough to keep checking them out.”

Shaffer admits that his one fear was that the books would be left on the shelves instead of being checked out.

“That was my concern,” he said. “What if the books just sit there and no one is interested in reading them? But the kids have really been enjoying them.”

In fact, Shaffer and Dorschner reported that 250 books from the new classroom libraries have been checked out by eighth-grade students since arriving this past school year.

“I think it’s really nice to have books in the classroom,” MMS eighth-grader Emma Holland said. “There are times where I don’t want to walk down to the library and waste time. And now, Ms. Dorschner has a lot of books and a lot of series.”

Right now, Holland is reading “Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell.

“It’s a really good book,” Holland said. “She has a lot of books that interest me. I like mystery books, although ‘Fangirl’ isn’t so much of a mystery book. It’s about a college girl who goes to school, and she has fan fiction and tried getting into fiction-writing class. But her professor won’t accept fan fiction, so she has to rewrite it. There’s a lot of drama in there.”

Holland said she also likes scary books.

“I like ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,'” she said. “That’s really good, and I want to read the second one, but I don’t know where to find it. I love reading.”

Holland admits that she didn’t read as much in the first and second quarter but since a friend recommended a John Green book to her, Holland has been reading more consistently.

“Katie showed me ‘The Fault in Our Stars,’ by John Green,” Holland said. “Now I’ve read almost all of his books. I just love John Green.”

The eighth-grade libraries have also met the needs of a few students in other grades as well.

“My sister is a freshman, and she’s been in here (to check out books) twice already,” Holland said.

Eighth-grader Ana Schwarz has also been using the books purchased through the grant.

“I just love having the books in here,” Schwarz said. “I technically read really fast, and I get done with books quickly, so it’s nice to just come into the classroom that I’m in every day and grab a new book whenever I need to.”

Dorschner envisions the new book collection fitting the needs of many students but not exclusively.

“Occasionally, if we have a book that the library doesn’t have and a student in one of the other grades needs it, they’ll come over and check it out,” she said. “And if we have one book from a series, maybe the (regular) library will have the rest of them. So we can spark an interest here and then get them down there, too.”

Eighth-grade student Devin Soupir said he, too, appreciates the new library of high-interest books.

“I think there are a lot of options there,” Soupir said. “At first, when I went to the other library, there were so many that you can’t really find a category. But here, you can look at them all.”

Shaffer believes that reading can benefit students in a number of ways.

“It just helps them in so many different ways in life, to prepare them for high school and the more difficult text they’re going to read,” Shaffer said. “That’s important. And just being a life-long reader is so important because it’s how we get through life. No matter what we do, we have to be able to read and comprehend what we read, and this is a way that we can encourage them to enjoy reading.”