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Storytime for seniors? They’re all ears

Sparta—Senior Abigayle Scott said she was “super excited” when plans were announced at Sparta High School to celebrate March is Reading Month. “Reading is my favorite thing to do,” she said.

This is the first time in years that reading month has been celebrated at the high school, said senior Alexandra Bennett. 

“I think the best part about this month is that it allows students who may not participate in any other extracurriculars to be recognized for something that they love: reading.”

English teacher Kate Mader said the month includes typical activities such as March Madness with a Battle of the Books bracket; submitting reading logs for prizes and a drawing students are entered into when “caught reading” by a teacher; and random “drop everything and read” half-hours.

Don’t Stop Reading 

Senior Scott Strayer said that while he has always enjoyed reading, he had gotten out of the habit during his free time. “Having a month dedicated to reading, though, has changed that,” he said. “I’ve found myself easily just sitting down at home and reading a book. Just the other day, I read for several hours, which allowed me to finish the book ‘The Martian’ in one day.

“Even during school when I’d normally get on my phone during some free time, I notice that I pull out a book instead.”

Abigayle said she typically does a lot of online reading, “but now I take the time to take a physical copy to school and read when I get time.

“The ‘caught reading’ thing has been interesting, and I see a lot more kids reading at school. Usually when there is a couple of minutes of downtime they take out their phones. Now some are picking up a book.”

English and psychology teacher Kendra Thompson has incorporated listening time into her college-level classroom and reads to her students daily to start the class (courtesy)

Listen Up 

Kendra Thompson, who has been teaching English and psychology at Sparta High for more than two decades, said the celebration of reading has been exciting to watch. “My students have great memories of celebrating reading month at the elementary level, and I have always wanted to do more at the secondary level,” she said.

This year she decided to incorporate story time into her college-level senior English classes. She said students really seem to enjoy it. “I ask them to put away all the screens and just listen. In our world of tech, focusing and listening are skills we need to foster, and what better way to do that than with a good read?”

Student reactions have been positive. “It’s peaceful and prepares me for class,” said senior Katie Gale. “It’s very therapeutic.”  

Added senior Abigail Way: “It’s a great transition from lunch to work time. It makes me happy.”

Abigayle said she likes being read to. “The last time that happened was in elementary school, maybe fourth grade,” she said. “There is a lot to process when you read, with the characters, setting and description. I find I do a better job of understanding it. And Mrs. Thompson is really good at the accents, so it is fun to listen to.”

And On Camera

Another March is Reading feature at Sparta High School is Book Buzz. Students, teachers and other staff members offer quick reviews and recommendations every day via video on the Spartan News. Students submit video reviews for judging and prizes. 

“My favorite book is ‘Number the Stars’ by Lois Lowry, because it is so heartwarming and has a good cry to it,” said Kendyl Bjorkman in her video review.

Health and physical education teacher Michael Graham reviewed a non-fiction book and shared a story about meeting its author.

Senior Ally Mason records, edits and upload the videos. “About half of them were submitted, and for the rest I go around asking students to talk about their favorite book and ask if they are willing to be on Spartan News,” she said.

Many agree the celebration has been worth it.

“I haven’t read all the books on the (March Madness) bracket, but some are certainly on my list to read now,” Abigayle said.

Added Scott: “This past year, my love for reading died down a little bit. I’m not sure why, but I think and hope that this reading month has ignited that again.”

Ally Mason films, edits and organizes book videos for the Spartan News (courtesy)
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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst is a reporter covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio

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