Kingsburg Elementary Charter School District (KECSD) serves a unique rural community in the Central San Joaquin Valley of Kingsburg, California. It is a town where parents, teachers, administrators, and community members are all singularly committed to the education of their children. Literacy had been a district-wide focus even before One District, One Book (ODOB) was introduced to the community as the Kingsburg Elementary staff worked to develop systems for what was happening in their classrooms while also seeking a way to engage families.
“In an effort to find ideas and resources,” says Melanie Sembritzki, the retired Assistant Superintendent for KECSD. “I began looking online and literally did a Google search. I’m a huge Dallas Cowboys fan and came across an article and picture of former Cowboys coach, Jason Garrett, promoting the program. The idea of building a culture of literacy at home was a perfect match for what we were trying to accomplish as a district. We loved the idea of including the community and providing multiple opportunities for everyone to take part, contribute, and really get involved.”
Now, with five years of hosting an ODOB program under their belt, Sembritzki considers the program a “win-win situation for the entire community.”
“The joy on our kids’ faces when they hear that we are beginning a new ‘Read to Them’ book is worth millions,” Sembritzki shares. “The fact that our parents and community get so involved is beyond measure, too. The hours of reading together and the amount of time talking about what they are reading that is taking place within our families, not to mention all of the learning, is an amazing thing.”
For schools who are embarking on their first reading event, Sembritzki recommends looking through all of the resources that are provided with your selected title. However, the most instrumental element of planning an ODOB is to work with a team.
“Teachers and librarians are great resources, and really know their books. Book selection is huge!” Sembritzki says that she was also able to include their town’s local librarian in the program planning. “The county library has been a huge resource for us, and [is] great at helping promote and take part in activities centered around ODOB.”
Kingsburg has selected a wide-range of titles for their ODOB programs, including Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, The Lemonade War by Jacquelline Davies, The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Each of these titles presented opportunities for the staff at KECSD to find creative ways to include the community in their program, including businesses and service groups.
For instance, when promoting Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, district staff canvassed the downtown streets to inform businesses about ODOB and its benefits. Golden tickets were hidden inside of businesses, a community scavenger hunt led families to the downtown candy shop, and store-owners were given trivia questions to ask kids and encourage engagement outside of school. The KECSD’s read of Charlotte’s Web led to a mascot race during a football game, serving as a tie-in to the county fair elements from E.B. White’s classic novel. Middle school students created art projects that covered familiar downtown spots with words from Charlotte, including FERN, WILBUR, and SERENDIPITY.
KECSD’s reading of The Lemonade War looked a little different, as this title was selected amid the pandemic. However, this didn’t stop ODOB from thriving in the Kingsburg community. A virtual author visit from Jacqueline Davies allowed students to learn “so much about reading and writing in such a short amount of time,” something that was considered a great learning experience for staff, too.
However, to Sembritzki, the stand-out event has to be their time with The Mouse and the Motorcycle. Between a fundraiser to support the local animal shelter and a Make Your Pet a Masterpiece competition where families submitted photos of their pets for KECSD staff to paint their furry-likenesses, a Mouse and the Motorcycle themed float was put together for the city’s Swedish Festival parade.
“It was one of the best-ever family get-togethers we’ve had, as our moms worked for hours and days helping with our float,” Sembritzki reflects, adding that the community-wide engagement did not stop there. “Our local county library gave away free new books for families who found toy mice hidden throughout the downtown community. Families from nearby towns heard about this and started visiting our downtown businesses looking for mice and turning them in so their child could receive free books. There were some funny and not so funny discussions taking place between parents of the different communities over trying to find these mice. All in all, everyone agreed it was for a good cause and the more, the merrier.”
For their most recent reading event, students dove into the pages of Escape from Mr. Limoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein.
“Each year we have been able to refine our program,” claims Matt Stovall, the current Assistant Superintendent for KECSD. “We [work hard] to make the program unique and special. This year was the first time we were able to bring in the author for an on-site visit. Chris Grabenstein helped us create a lot of excitement for the book– and helped promote literacy to our community.”
It is undeniable: the impact of ODOB on KECSD has been huge. Not just on the schools– but their entire community.
“One of our goals was to get as many people as possible involved,” Sembritzki says. “All for the benefit of our students, but also finding ways to benefit the community and our businesses. It’s really become more than a One District, One Book, but now includes all of the students in the Kingsburg Community, and the community itself.”
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Shining example of how effective a community can be promoting literacy!