High school students start a book club for youngsters | SierraSun.com

High school students start a book club for youngsters

Renee Shadforth

Tahoe Truckee High School juniors Remy Denton and Matt Blesse had extra credits in school, so they opted to not have a fourth period class this year.

It’s the schedule most high school students dream about.

But instead of hitting the slopes or flipping the channels on the tube for an extra hour, Denton and Blesse started a book club for Truckee Elementary students reading above grade level.

“It’s kind of an eye-opener,” Denton said. “They’re a lot more capable than I expected. You think of coloring and picture books with elementary kids, but they’re reading books that I would like to read.”

Denton and Blesse got the idea for the book club when they realized what was lacking from their elementary education. At the time, they were in GATE (gifted and talented education), and there was no opportunity to advance their reading skills in the program.

With a little help from Blesse’s mom, a teacher at Truckee Elementary, the 16-year-olds wrote a proposal to start a book club and submitted it to Principal Kathy Valle.

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“Too often we hear about the kids in the sheriff’s log,” Valle said. “These students are taking the initiative to do something positive.”

After everything was approved, Truckee Elementary teachers recommended students reading above grade level in their classes. Some students asked if they could be involved.

Then, following the 2002 Thanksgiving break, the book club was born.

“It’s voluntary for the kids. A few of them dropped out at the beginning, so the one’s who are there want to be there,” Denton said.

The club has two groups, one with fifth graders and the other with third and fourth graders. Each group has about eight students.

The students have read books like “Beowulf” and “Tom Sawyer,” books that have far exceeded Blesse and Denton’s expectations. Currently, the fifth-grade group is reading “Wind in the Willows,” a ninth-grade-level book.

“It’s helped me become a better reader, especially with reading out loud” said fifth grader Myra Gunter. “My vocabulary has really expanded.”

A cooperative learning experience

During the book club, the students sit in a circle and take turns reading pages. Every so often one of the students will stumble over a word, like “asunder” or “reproachfully,” and Denton or Blesse will stop the group to discuss its definition.

Sometimes a student will take the initiative and ask what a word means.

“The first day [the elementary students] were like, ‘Uh oh, high school students,’ but now they seem way more comfortable,” Denton said.

After certain passages, Denton or Blesse ask comprehensive questions. Sometimes they ask the group to summarize the last scene. The students seem eager to give input.

“It’s really been a learning process,” Blesse said. “We’ve had to learn how to get the kids involved.”

At the end of the 45-minute meeting, Denton and Blesse assign the next 10 pages of “Wind in the Willows” for the students to read at home. Denton asks them if they think it’s too much.

After a second of contemplation, the students answer with a resounding, “No!”

Book club’s future

Now that Denton and Blesse have found their bearings in a teaching role, Denton is leaving for India to teach young children for four months. While his partner is away, Blesse said he has found a replacement to close out the school year until Denton gets back.

They hope to continue the book club next year and get some of their peers involved.

“I’ve learned that there is more out there than just the high school thing,” Denton said. “You get kind of bogged down with essays and SATs and Shakespeare. I’m reading those books with them and not to them.

“I feel like I can relate to them. They’re not just some elementary school kids anymore.”