VMS part of nationwide test program for reading

As Scholastic looks to increase reading levels across the country, VMS was recently one of eight schools to test new titles for students

Students at Voorhees Middle School held its bi-annual Scholastic Book Fair earlier this month, offering updated books and novels for middle school students through a new nationwide test. Pictured, left to right, are students Miraal Halim, Ava Malamut, Cherin Kim, Elliesa Ilagan and VMS Librarian Stacey Fulton.

According to a survey performed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last year, leisure reading in the U.S. has dropped more than 30 percent since 2004. The American Time Use Survey found only about 19 percent of respondents 15 years of age and older read for pleasure on any given day.

Could reasons for the decline be video games and technology? Does it have something to do with reading education and the perceptions of young children? Are there other contributing factors?

Regardless of the answers, educators and librarians nationwide want to reverse the downward trend by demonstrating reading for pleasure is possible.

This month, Voorhees Middle School was selected as one of eight schools across the country to partner with Scholastic, as the publishing, education and media company tries to better reach middle-school students with books they want to read.

Anne Wissinger, executive director of strategic marketing with Scholastic Book Fairs, visited VMS last week during a school book fair that took place from Nov 16 to Nov. 21. While book fairs may be common in elementary and middle schools — VMS hosts one every fall and spring — the latest fair was slightly different.

“This school is part of a nationwide test, but they’re one of only of eight schools in the country that are trying some really exciting young adult books in their Scholastic Book Fair,” Wissinger said.

While students are often learning to read at a more basic level throughout elementary school, Wissinger said by middle school they grow tired of reading, because of either the amount they do for school or a lack of choice in certain classrooms.

“The basic idea is for middle-school students to keep reading because there’s a serious decline in reading,” she explained. “The power of students choosing what they want to read, especially books that are more relevant to our culture now and what they would be interested in, is very important.”

According to Wissinger, the majority of test schools are along the East Coast and they test more age-appropriate books for students in middle school.

VMS Librarian Stacey Fulton is a member of the Scholastic Book Fair Customer Advisory Panel, one of approximately 15 nationwide. She has helped with the logistics of providing students better reading options to promote a culture of reading within schools.

“Historically, enthusiasm for book fairs dwindles as (students) get older throughout middle school,” Fulton noted. “In 6th grade, they’ll be pretty excited when they come in, in 7th  grade they’re lukewarm and in 8th grade I’ll be lucky if they visit or even think about purchasing a book.”

Fulton said the problem may have various solutions, but from her perspective and in meeting with students over the years, she has found book fairs aren’t always representative of what students may want to read.

Earlier this school year, Fulton had students who often frequent the library read various books and give feedback on what titles and genres they might enjoy.

Through such feedback from schools such as VMS and others across the country, approximately 20 books were selected for the Scholastic Book Fairs in eight schools.

“I look at it like its more student driven now rather than adult driven like it has been in the past,” Fulton said. “The kids get to pick what they would be interested in, rather than adults picking what we think they’d be interested in.”

Several students at VMS contributed to the selection of books for the Scholastic fair.  Seventh graders Miraal Halim and Elliesa Ilagan both read five books each and provided feedback to Fulton.

“After I would read a book, I would talk to Ms. Fulton about it and say what I really liked about it and the different ideas that I had after reading it,” Ilagan said.

“I would do similar things to that, but I would also talk to my friends about it afterwards to get them to try to read it as well,” added Halim.

Both students said they originally started with their own favorite genre while reading titles in preparation for the book fair, and then tried out titles they would not otherwise have explored.

According to Wissinger, Scholastic plans to roll out a similar program to over 100 more schools next year.