Middle Kingdom: Nebraska City, Nebraska

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?

Arbor Day Farm
Arbor Day Farm

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.

The Nebraska City Middle School band preparing to perform in the Arbor Day parade 2013
The Nebras­ka City Mid­dle School band prepar­ing to per­form in the Arbor Day parade 2013

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?

Nebraska City Middle School
Nebras­ka City 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.

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