Creating Enthusiastic Middle School Readers

Grant Applicant
Katie Santos
School Site
Sierra Expeditionary Learning School
Grant Category
Grant Date
Description (10 points)

“Students will read if we give them the books, the time, and the enthusiastic encouragement to do so. If we make them wait for the one unit a year in which they are allowed to choose their own books and become readers, they may never read at all.” ― Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child

The middle school teachers at Sierra Expeditionary Learning School are very excited to implement new literature and reading strategies for their students, but they lack an adequate middle school libraries  that Alder Creek Middle School and North Tahoe Middle School enjoy. In The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller describes how she coaches every 6th grade student to become readers who average 40-50 books a year.  She gives her students the time and the freedom to read books of their choosing.  The real key to success is having a library full of diverse and engaging literature from all genres to share and intrigue students.

Ms. Santos has taken time to reflect on specific titles she would like to add to start the middle school library.  The middle school crews at Sierra Expeditionary Learning School are in need of fiction and non-fiction novels to dive deeply into their overarching theme--identity.  Throughout sixth, seventh, and eighth grade the middle school teachers focus heavily on several aspects of identity and self-discovery; personal identity, identity within a community, and identity on a global level.  “It’s hard to be what you can’t see,” says middle-grade author Jason Reynolds.  He knows. . . Teachers kept giving him what they considered classics, but those middle school books had nothing to do with who he was and what he saw each day.  So, he never touched them.”  To deepen this important and meaningful period of self discovery and reflection, Ms. Santos would like to add highly engaging and purposeful titles--that directly align with the middle school theme--to the very small middle school library.    

To further demonstrate need, the middle school at SELS received two new teachers in seventh and eighth grade.  This is the first year Ms. Santos has taught seventh grade, and Mr. Worster previously taught middle school math and science.  They have very little literature to work with and students have repeatedly asked for more books to share.

Benefits of Program (10 points)

Every middle school student at Sierra Expeditionary Learning School will benefit from a middle school library.  When given the freedom to choose their own books, even the most resistant students become readers! The sixth-grade teacher, Reenie McMains, implemented The Book Whisperer approach to reading in her sixth-grade classroom halfway through this school year.  She has seen a complete change in her students’ attitudes toward reading--and the quality of their work.  She has one student who proclaimed to HATE reading and refused to read who has now read 18 books since the holiday break!  In addition, there has been a major shift in the quality of work and conversations students are having about literature.  Instead of merely summarizing their reading, students have organically started to interpret themes, discuss character development, and analyze author motivation without prompting!  

After experiencing her students’ enthusiasm for reading soar, Reenie shared The Book Whisperer with Katie Santos.  Ms. Santos began using this reading method in her seventh-grade room recently and has seen some students who would barely read one book last semester already read six and seven books this semester!  And, students are asking for more books to share!  They are becoming eager and enthusiastic readers.

The most compelling evidence comes from student feedback. “I like getting recommendations from my friends. I usually like the same kinds of books as Lily and Sophie. I’m more likely to take suggestions from them than an adult.”- Sylvie

I usually hate reading, but I couldn’t put this book down. I have read three books so far!” -Holden

Success of Program (10 points)

For a teacher who loves to read, it hurts Ms. Santo’s heart that her students don’t share the same passion. The basis of this program is to instill a love for reading in the students in a way that will extend beyond the classroom. She has already seen success in the enthusiasm the students have to dive into new books. They can’t wait for the time of the day when they get to escape back into their story. Their grade is given based off of them recording the books they read and getting them signed off by a teacher She keeps an eye on where the student is in the book and how quickly they can get through it. The students also write advertisements for their books to share with their classmates. If they really enjoyed a book, it shows up in their writing and encourages others to read the book. The student are also required to write letters to their teacher in which they receive responses. In this way, Ms. Santos can check for understanding as well as foster a community of enthusiastic readers. The real measure of success is seeing reluctant readers become avid readers.

Implementation (10 points)

Using techniques described in The Book Whisperer, students will be asked to challenge themselves to read 40 books a year.   Students are allowed time and space to read at their own paces. Students are allowed to choose their own books, but will be asked to read at least one book from each of the following genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction, Traditional Literature, Poetry, Informational and Biography/ Autobiography/ Memoir.

During their reading, students will write journal entries and letters to their teachers weekly.  Teachers take time to personally respond to each student. Remember, students are reading literature from all genres that focus on the important middle school idea of developing identity.  Having this important 1:1 connection with their teacher during this period is paramount. This personal connection has proved so much more effective and inspiring than book clubs.

In addition, students are expected to produce one major project each month--regardless of where they are in their current reading.  These projects may include creating commercials, book reviews, or art pieces. It is important to note that this is not a book club.  Students will not be reading the same book together and holding discussions. Instead, they will be asked to “sell” their book to one another and share their enthusiasm for literature with their peers and teacher.

The success so far has been inspiring.  Even students who were previously unmotivated and underachieving readers are happily reading and producing high quality, insightful work.  

Can you share this grant with your grade level or subject team?

Absolutely--this library will be accessed and used by all students in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade crews.  Students are begging for more books to share. We anticipate needing to have 70-75 novels checked out at any given time.  In addition, these books will serve students in our middle school for years to come and will be added to throughout the coming years.

Yes, this program is fully sustainable. The library will continue to grow and be added to yearly through various donations and funding, but we just need a large donation of books to get this program off the ground. Katie Santos has already used her SELS Bear Walk funds to purchase shelving for the library. Teachers and students are extremely enthusiastic about the possibility of a middle school library. Should teachers move sites, the library will remain with Sierra Expeditionary Learning School.
Amount Funded
Individual Budget Items(s)
$20 - Fiction Books
$19 - Non-Fiction Books
Budget Notes

Every one of these books offers a path to identity and will help provide middle schoolers with the tools they need to grow into who they really want to be.  These are titles recommended by authors and teen readers dealing with issues such as racism, gender, sexuality, migration, and adolescence. 


Please note that we asked Word After Word bookstore in Truckee if they could match prices.  They cannot get closer than 5-10% over Amazon prices. In addition, Grassroots Bookstore in Reno is a big supporter and can help with titles--in addition to providing students with a free used book of their choice to add to the library.  

Other funding sources

This year, Reenie McMains and Katie Santos used money raised by the SELS Bear Walk to allow each student to choose one book to purchase at Grassroots Bookshop in Reno to kick off the program.  The money raised by Bear Walk at the middle school level is far less than the funds raised at the elementary level and somewhat exhausted teacher funds for the year. In addition, Measure A funds are unavailable.  And, the Parent-Teacher Crew is not able to provide funding for books at this time.

Given that SELS received two new middle school teachers this year, any amount granted for literature and books would be extremely appreciated and well used.  Not only are the teachers asking for more books, their students are asking for more books, as well.

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