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Revolutionize Your Reading Celebration

I’m thrilled to have Jennifer Drone here today to share how she revolutionized the mindset of her school from the idea that reading is a requirement to reading is a celebration. Jennifer has the stats to prove it. The first year she began the Sunshine State Celebration where she required students to read the Sunshine State books, she had 6 students participating. Last year over 400 students completed all 15 Sunshine State books and over 650 participated and read at least 5 books! Those are staggering and inspiring numbers.

First group of many getting into the limo with the teachers and authors.

I was thrilled to be one of the authors chosen to celebrate with the students at Jennifer’s school, Keene’s Crossing Elementary/.  These students blew me away at how excited they were about reading and being a part of this reading party. One of my favorite parts was when the whole school came out and cheered for the students who read all 15 books as they paraded to the limos.

If you are a teacher, media specialist, or librarian struggling to get your students to tackle required reading or a state reading list, check out Jennifer’s fantastic tips on how to revolutionize your reading celebrations.

What inspired you to create a Sunshine State Celebration at your school?

Jennifer Drone starting off a fun day celebrating literacy!

My inspiration for starting the Sunshine State challenge and celebration was to spark an interest in reading books that my students might not normally pick up on their own. My program is based around the yearly SSYRA titles selected by the state. It contains 15 titles of various fiction genres. To participate in the celebrations, students must read all 15 books. I needed a way to get the students to read books that might be outside of their comfort zone and introduces them to genres such as historical fiction or mystery that they would not have read by first choice. I also needed to show the students that they could read books that were longer and more difficult than they thought they could. Offering the celebration, gives the students the extra motivation to complete the SSYRA challenge and challenge themselves. 

Share with us what your Sunshine State Celebration looks like.

Limo ride to the restaurant!

My Sunshine State celebration is a full school day that includes visits with local children’s authors and lunch at a local restaurant with transportation via limousine. We typically have 3 authors. The students are divided into groups and rotate through the author presentations. Author presentations are about 40 minutes in length. We also have a local book store set up books written by those authors.  The students are allowed to choose one book as a gift from the school as well as preorder other ones. Following lunch, the students have the opportunity to have their books signed by the authors.   To honor the students who meet the challenge, families, teachers, staff, and remaining students come outside to cheer and take pictures as the students get into the limos. It is a community celebration.

What are the biggest obstacles you’ve had to face? How did you overcome those?

Every student came away with an autographed copy of an author’s book of their choice.

The biggest obstacles are funding and organization. It takes a lot of fundraising through book fairs to raise enough money to pay for such a grand event. However, after the first couple of years, the school and community got behind the program and have been generous in donating to make sure it is able to continue.  The second obstacle is organization. Leading up to the event, you must have a plan in place for tracking student progress and be diligent about the accuracy of your records. You also have to plan for a restaurant location and a limousine service that can accommodate your group. You have to consider the dietary needs of your students and restaurants that have adequate seating. The day of the event has to be planned to the minute. There are so many moving parts. Students have to be divided into groups and move from location to location to hear the various authors. One group has to board the limos and be dropped off for lunch. While they are eating the limo has to return to pick up another group. 

What piece of advice would you give a media specialist, librarian, or teacher who wishes to follow the model that you run at Keene’s Crossing Elementary?

Each author shared reading and writing tips.

My advice is to start early and get a plan in place. Make sure you are very clear on the criteria for participation. And ask for help. Get volunteers to assist where you can. 

Jennifer and I all fancy for our limo ride!

Jennifer Drone is the media specialist for Keene’s Crossing Elementary. She is a master teacher, having been awarded teacher of the year for her school and one of five finalists for teacher of the year in the entire Orange Country Public Schools.

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