Middle Kingdom: Nebraska City, Nebraska
The books that most delight middle school and junior high readers often straddle a “Middle Kingdom” ranging from upper middle grade to YA. Each month, Bookology columnist Lisa Bullard will visit the Middle Kingdom by viewing it through the eyes of a teacher or librarian. Bookology is delighted to celebrate the work of these educators who have built vital book encampments in the transitional territory of early adolescence.
This month’s journey takes us to Nebraska City Middle School in Nebraska City, Nebraska, where Lisa talks with Media Specialist Alice Harrison.
Lisa: What would you like to tell our readers about your community?
Alice: Nebraska City, Nebraska is home to the national holiday Arbor Day, celebrated every year the last Friday in April. J. Morton Sterling, the founder of Arbor Day, migrated to the Nebraska Territory in 1854, where he later became the Secretary of Nebraska Territory. Sterling saw the agricultural and economical benefits of planting trees, and in 1872 he convinced the Nebraska Board of Agriculture to establish a specific holiday for everyone to join in planting trees. April was chosen to correlate with Sterling’s birthday, and several presidents since then have declared Arbor Day a national holiday on the last Friday in April. Since the first Arbor Day celebration to the present day, Nebraska City has celebrated with a parade down the main street where area middle school and high school bands come to perform. Tree starters are distributed to the attendees, as well as tons of candy!
The abundance of apple trees planted in Nebraska City has led to another celebration—the AppleJack Festival was established to celebrate the harvesting of all those apples. Taking place the third weekend in September, people come from all over to consume apple pies, apple bread, apple donuts (my favorite!), several varieties of fresh apples, apple jams, and a long list of other apple items, along with participating in other celebratory events.
Lisa: What changes are ahead this year for your school or library/media center?
Alice: Nebraska City Middle School has 325 students, predominately white with a large population of Hispanic students. It is a Title 1 school with 45.8% free and reduced lunch. The district school board passed the implementation of a technology 1:1 initiative, beginning the school year of 2015–16, as a pilot program in the Middle School. All the students, staff, and faculty will have Chromebooks to use (at school only) by checking them in and out of the homerooms or alpha classrooms. Presently, the Middle School is the only school in the district approved to participate in this pilot program. Every classroom teacher will be using Google Classroom (a Google Apps for Education app). The goal is to help teachers save time by organizing lesson plans, incorporating interactive curriculum, allowing for student and teacher collaboration, and providing immediate teacher feedback, along with displaying and accessing class assignments and grades. To incorporate this 1:1 initiative, our IT director is setting up every student with their own personal Gmail account.
To teach digital citizenship and personal responsibility with the Chromebooks, every teacher, including myself, will be teaching and utilizing the Common Sense Media curriculum. I am only a ¼‑time Media Specialist at the Middle School (I teach at the elementary school for the other ¾‑time), so I am fortunate to have a marvelous full-time assistant in the Middle School library. The first few days of school this coming year, all the students will be attending training sessions taught by the faculty and staff to instruct students in the use and care of Chromebooks. In the past, I have taught 6th grade keyboarding, but to date, I do not know of any plans for keyboarding instruction.
Lisa: What else will be new for the Middle School library this year?
Alice: I am excitedly anticipating this new school year at the Middle School because this past May I purchased 37 e‑books, our first time to acquire this format. The e‑books that I purchased were from Follett, but our library automated system is the online, cloud-based version of Library World. Follet sent me detailed instructions as to how to set up the e‑books for checkout. The students and faculty will be able to read the e‑books on the Chromebooks, but only online. However, they can be accessed on all other devices for online or offline reading. I’m ecstatic!
Sixteen of the e‑books are our state award nominees, which are called Golden Sowers . There are a total of 30 books nominated every year for three levels, with 10 nominated in each level: Primary, Intermediate, and Young Adult. And that leads me to how I came to connect with Lisa Bullard, who asked if I would participate in this interview for Bookology—her book Turn Left at the Cow is a Golden Sower nominee for the 2015–16 school year.
Lisa: Alice, the Golden Sower nomination is such a huge honor for me, and I’m so delighted that it brought the two of us together! Can you tell us more about the impact of the Golden Sower titles on your library and student reading?
Alice: Each summer, I try to read as many Golden Sower nominees for the coming school year as I can. READING…my favorite pass-time!
As you can imagine, a major concentration of our promotion at the Middle School library is devoted to the Golden Sower state nominee books. Our literature/reading teachers also heavily promote these in their classrooms. At the end of every school year, the students are awarded certificates for four different levels of completion for reading the Golden Sowers. From these students, three names are drawn for additional prizes.
Some of the Golden Sower nominees are books from a series—then I usually purchase the whole series, because the students are so interested in the nominated books. For example, some of the series with recent Golden Sower nominated-titles are: Richard Paul Evans’ Michael Vey series, the Starters series by Lissa Price, Rob Buyea’s Mr. Terupt titles, the According to Humphrey books by Betty G. Birney, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series, and the Legend series by Marie Lu. Two years ago, Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, was chosen as a Golden Sower Award winner and our Middle School selected this book as an all-school read.
Lisa: What other books and series have been popular reads in your Middle School?
Alice: The list includes the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, the Conspiracy 365 series by Gabrielle Lord, the Selection series by Kiera Cass, Erin Hunter’s Warriors series and Seekers series, the Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen, and the Cirque du Freak series by Darren Shan. Other popular authors with our middle schoolers are Mike Lupica, Laurie Halse Anderson, Meg Cabot, and Carl Hiaasen.
Lisa: I’m amazed at all you have going on—especially since with your split schedule, you don’t have a lot of time to do it all! Are there any other initiatives you’d like to share?
Alice: In the past year, I have been trying to focus more on our reluctant readers in the Middle School. I’ve been purchasing more nonfiction graphic readers and fiction graphic novels. Also, this new school year I am incorporating a new promotion at the Middle School for the Golden Sowers. I have been making audio and printed text QR codes for each Golden Sower book and printing the book covers to apply them to the covers. I will be displaying them in the Middle School library and hallways. The audio portion features me reading the book’s summary, and the printed portion contains links to book trailers, author websites, and book theme links.