Going into a fourth school year touched by a global pandemic means continuing to make some adjustments based not only on fluctuating threat levels of the virus but also caring for the changed academic and socioemotional needs of students.
In light of this shifting landscape, Kansas City Public Schools, in partnership with the Kansas City Public Library, has launched an important initiative: a reading campaign through which academic and socioemotional learning will intersect.
From now until the end of the school year, students can participate in KCPS Loves to Read, a reading program featuring material meant to foster belonging, friendship, curiosity, confidence, courage, and hope. These monthly themes come from a Scholastic book, Every Child a Super Reader, by Pam Allyn and Ernest Morrell.
Erin Dorsey, director of elementary curriculum and instruction for the school district, says that faculty and members of the community feel concerned about the socioemotional toll the pandemic has taken on children.
Emotions continue to run high, she says, and students often have trouble connecting with each other, either as a product of having spent a great deal of time in isolation or behind masks, and because they have not collaborated in groups often.
Educators would like to remedy that and help students discover themselves as people and as learners. “What strengths do they have that can benefit their classroom and their community? And what's the best way to share those things?” Dorsey asks. “Being able to connect with the group appropriately has been a struggle (as well as) seeing where they fit.
“While we wanted to do something to support our students with that, we knew we needed to do something to support our students with literacy. We thought the best way would be to marry the two,” she explains.
The interim superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools, Jennifer Collier, proposed a reading campaign, and Dorsey and other educators developed KCPS Loves to Read based on their own research.
Each month, a list of titles in keeping with the theme is available to students at more than 38 schools in pre-K through second grade, third to fifth grades, and sixth to eighth grades. Grades 9-12 have some suggested readings, but they’re also encouraged to set aside time for listening to podcasts – engaging with any audio or written format that connects them with material that interests them.
The campaign includes a reading log that features socioemotional goal setting. For instance, the August/September book selections are related to the prompt “Belonging: bring a valued, cherished member of a larger community.”
The accompanying worksheet has goals such as: “I welcome others with a caring perspective and mindset. And: “I help make a change if something isn’t working for my community or classroom.” Students are asked to check a box that they’ve either accomplished or are working on the goal.
Student involvement in the campaign is not mandatory, Dorsey says, but she hopes to generate enough hype to inspire the majority of students to participate voluntarily.
Partnering in this endeavor, the Library’s youth and family engagement staff members are creating displays of each month’s highlighted books and featuring some of the titles in Dial-a-Story and on the Library’s youth YouTube channel.
Dorsey says, “When our students go into the Library and they see (the display), they're automatically connected. That's exciting for a kid. That's my school, and that's my school district. That engages them on a different level as well.”
The Library will not only help promote the campaign to families of students, she says, but also teach the wider community about it. Dorsey hopes the community will participate by observing a reading break from 10 to 10:15 a.m. every Wednesday, joining the students. Anyone can post photos of themselves reading on social media with the campaign’s hashtag, #kcpsLovesToRead.
Kansas City Public Schools student ID numbers function as Kansas City Public Library cards. So, in addition to encouraging positive interactions among students, healthy self-esteem, and good reading habits, the joint campaign creates an opportunity for participants to explore the Library’s website and all the system has to offer, like OverDrive for Kids and OverDrive for Teens.