When thinking about how to create a community of readers I could think of no better example than Jenner Elementary, a long time WITS school partner. Jenner’s principal, Mr. Croston, utilizes four techniques to keep his school an active community of readers.
When I visited Jenner, I arrived just as the school day began. The entire school was gathered in the cafeteria for a morning meeting. “What is your reading goal for this week?” Mr. Croston, the school principal asked the room. The eighth graders sat in the corner, their jackets pulled up around their ears. The kindergarten teachers hovered around Jenner’s youngest students, helping them settle into the benches that are still too high off the ground for their toes to reach.
Mr. Croston wanted to hear specific answers. He wanted students to name their goals and work towards them. At first, a few tentative hands were raised. “To finish Hard Days” one student said, referring to the popular Diary of a Whimpy Kid series. From there, hands shot up around the room. The principal was asking them to think about their goals, and once they thought about a goal they wanted to share it, and once they shared it out loud, they become students who were more likely to reach those goals.
For as long as any of the Jenner students have been enrolled at the school, WITS Board member and long-time volunteer, Bud Lifton, has been a fixture of the community. As a Classroom Reading Tutor in Ms. Sherrif’s second grade classroom, he comes to Jenner twice a week to read and talk with students. I watched Bud walk down the hallway one morning and the students he passed called out to him by name and asked for high fives. Volunteering is not always easy and every minute isn’t rewarding, but the consistency of a caring adult in the building makes a world of difference to these students. It shows students that even on their toughest days, they are important, valued, and worthy of care and attention. Sometimes what they need most is just 15 minutes with a friend and a book.
Be a connector
After one of Jenner’s morning meetings, Bud called to tell WITS that the new Principal was really something else. A quick visit to the principal’s office and Mr. Croston had connected WITS with half a dozen community organizations, neighboring companies, and up and coming teachers. Over the summer, Jenner connected WITS with Groupon, and this October Groupon volunteers started walking to the school for weekly WITS sessions. The school expressed an interest in a university partnership and soon WITS had them signed up for WITS on Campus as well. WITS thrives off of word of mouth recommendation and Mr. Croston was committed to bringing his students any opportunities available. Through his energy and openness, Mr. Croston grew our volunteer base at Jenner from one to 23 volunteers in a matter of months. Those volunteers will spend this school year sharing the power of reading with students.
Great mentors are great role models. In his free time, Mr. Croston is reading The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Mr. Croston is a principal, a reader, and he is #IAMWITS.