For the last twelve years, Gates Elementary in Davison, Michigan has held an annual One School, One Book reading event. The school-wide reading program is one that students and staff eagerly look forward to each year.
“OSOB [really] brings families and schools together,” says Theresa Wendt, who has been the Principal at Gates Elementary for 22 years. “Seeing what others have done helps bring about change in how we do things at Gates. It is always an exciting time!”
Wendt goes on to share the path that brought Gates Elementary into the OSOB fold.
“In the late 2000’s, the Gates PTO started a Winter Reading Challenge for students. Participation was ‘okay’, but it seemed like the adults were doing a lot more work on it than the number of students participating.”
It wasn’t until two years after starting this winter challenge that Wendt happened to come across a small article about One School, One Book in a professional magazine. Intrigued, Wendt shared the piece with one of her teachers and the Gates PTO.
“They were sold!” Wendt says. “Gates has now been doing OSOB for 12 years with each year getting better than the last.”
During their lengthy tenure with OSOB, Wendt and her staff have used many strategies to get families actively engaged. There is always a kickoff, and most years have a student assembly or a family fun night, as well. Book bags, labeled with the families’ names, are made up with all of the materials families will need: a letter introducing the book, a reading schedule, suggested vocabulary, and even at-home activities. Families are encouraged to read each night as a family, and teachers read the chapters aloud the next day for students who may not have had time to do the reading the night before.
“Usually we conclude our reading with a family fun night where activities are planned that correlate with the book,” Wendt says. “For example, the year we read The Lemonade War, our family night included a lemonade war between grade levels. Another year, we had a good egg/bad egg station when we read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where students could choose an egg that was filled with a little pack of bamboozle jelly beans and another station where students were able to make their own candy. Parents and students always look forward to this night as we are all talking about the book and the fun we had reading it and completing the activities.”
Amid Covid, however, the staff at Gates adapted the program so there were nightly Zoom sessions for families to listen and follow along as teachers read the OSOB selection aloud. It proved to be a popular choice, a necessity for the time. Wendt notes that, as the world gravitates back to normalcy, “[our OSOB] should be [rooted] more in family time – time spent together reading and talking about the book.”
Upon reflection, Wendt says that the biggest change from their first OSOB to their most recent has been the planning. In the first year, the program preparations were done by five people who stayed late on a Friday afternoon. Now the process has become fluid and smooth.
“The organization of getting bags ready for close to 500 families was the most difficult part,” Wendt says. “We [just] did not plan for our first year. Now, we select our book in November/December and get it ordered right away then we start working on the items we share with families.”
It can be challenging to generate excitement for a program year after year, but Wendt believes she and her staff have a simple yet ingenious solution: the book selection.
“We always try to select a book that is part of a series,” Wendt says. “Sometimes, it just takes one book to turn a child into a reader and if it happens to be our OSOB then we want them to have more chances to read that author. I also believe that staff talking about the book with students helps hype up the program at Gates.”
Book selection doubles as the part of the program Wendt looks forward to each year. Though it’s not an easy decision, Wendt appreciates the opportunity to share a “good book with a significant number of people.”
Wendt adds that her school has been visited by Jacqueline Davies, author of The Lemonade War and, most recently, had a visit from Allan Woodrow, author of Class Dismissed. The year that The World According to Humphrey was selected as an OSOB, one of the teachers bought a hamster for the school. The Gates’ Humphrey visited each classroom for a day, and the classes kept a journal that was passed around so everyone could read about Humphrey’s adventures at Gates.
Wendt has no doubt that OSOB has had a positive impact on her school. Students enjoy the experience, and she feels the school “really comes together as a family” when they are united behind one book. She and her staff are already looking forward to the next event, and all the joy, excitement, and memories that lay ahead.