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West Jordan Journal

Fun with reading, not just for elementary schools

May 08, 2023 03:09PM ● By Jet Burnham

Joel P. Jensen Middle School’s Literacy Night featured literacy games run by student leadership groups such as stage crew, Latinos in Action and Strive Club. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

Joel P. Jensen Middle School staff members are enthusiastic about DreamBox Reading Plus, the supplemental reading program used in reading classes that is helping students make significant gains in their reading proficiency skills.

“The data is amazing,” Principal Aaron Hunter said. “We have kids go from second grade level to sixth grade level by the end of the year. Our data last year was each grade level went up on average at least a grade level. This program is incredible—especially for our readers that are lower on their lexile.”

As much as Hunter and the reading teachers love the DreamBox Reading Plus program, they also understand the importance of getting kids off the computer and spending time reading books.

“Getting them to break away from screens and social media—it's hard,” Hunter said. “So we’re just trying to promote that reading is fun, that there's books for everybody, there's genres for everybody.”

To involve both students and parents in making reading fun, Joel P. Jensen Middle School holds an Annual Literacy Night every March. This year’s event featured a rescued eagle and its handler, open pickleball courts, literacy-based carnival games, information about community resources, a hot dog dinner and free books. It brought together staff, students and their families, said JPJMS PTA President Barbie Curtis.

“As we get parents and younger siblings to come and feel part of our community, then it feels more like a home, they feel welcome and a recognition that there's a place for them here,” Curtis said. “The goal [of Literacy Night] is to open the school for families to come in, have the chance to share a meal together and promote literacy—and get books in each of the kids' hands.”

Every child went home with a book, selected from the school library’s surplus inventory.

JPJMS Library Media Specialist Kendal Poole makes reading fun and engaging for middle school students with monthly themes and activities in the school library. In March, students voted for their favorite books with a March Madness-style book bracket. In April, they submitted original works for a school-wide poetry contest.

“My goal is just to get kids in the library, whether they're reading or just being with their friends, so they're familiar with the library space and know that it's a safe space that they can go,” Poole said.

To expose students to a variety of genres and authors, she encourages students to read books which have been nominated for the Beehive Book Award, the only children's choice award for literature in the state of Utah. She said this challenge introduces students to books and authors that they might not have read otherwise. Students were invited to vote for their favorite books and help determine the Beehive Book Winners of the Year.

Poole selected 12 students to represent JPJMS at the district-wide Beehive Book Battle held at the end of March. The team divided up the list of the 25 nominated books to read 4-5 books each to be able to answer questions covering material from all of the books. The JPJMS team competed against teams from about 12 other schools and tied for a fourth place finish. λ