Our school’s annual All-School Read program engenders collaboration both within the school and beyond. Every year, a committee of teachers and staff at Rockwern chooses a single book, author or theme for every class, preschool through 8th grade. Program goals include building community and enriching our school culture through shared knowledge and experiences, encouraging cross-disciplinary and cross-grade projects, and supporting outreach and service learning.
We strengthen our own community through reading together and sharing class projects. When older children read the chosen book to younger children, the shared text offers common ground on which to build relationships. More complex endeavors cross disciplines. One such project, when our topic was Kavod/respect, led fifth and sixth graders to study several well-known Jewish folktales in Judaic studies class. After discussing how each tale demonstrated the theme, the students rewrote stories as puppet show scripts in language arts class, designed puppets and scenery in art, and finally, performed the show for our preschool and the Jewish Community Center. Simultaneously, our preschoolers focused on respect for the environment and created a rainbow mural out of recycled materials, which they presented to the older students.
In another component of the All-School Read, students collaborate with peers from another school to read and study the same books. When we read Three Cups of Tea, about a mountaineer who worked with Pakistani villagers to build schools, mostly for girls, we worked with a local Muslim school to learn more about the culture we encountered in the book. We also made a joint donation to Pennies for Peace and performed in a “peace choir” as part of Cincinnati’s Martin Luther King Day celebration.
Another year we studied the works of Kathryn Lasky, a prolific author who has written books for everyone from toddlers through adults, in genres ranging from the Holocaust to fantasy. During that year, we collaborated with the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School in Cleveland. Using both a communal website and Skype, we shared our thoughts and displayed creative projects. A highlight was when the author herself answered online questions from students at both schools.
This year’s theme is Community. We have chosen two texts: The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, by Levar Burton and Susan Bernardo, and Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña. We will collaborate with a local public school, Hays-Porter Elementary, and the architecture school at the University of Cincinnati. After reading the texts, our hope is to help students at both schools design, build and stock Little Free Libraries in the inner city.
The All-School Read evolves every year and always presents new opportunities. We’ve collaborated among ourselves and with a variety of other schools. As our students work with new friends from different grades, schools and backgrounds, the most unexpected, valuable and enduring lessons are not about their differences or about the books, but about their discovery of how much they have in common.