Book club helps staff forge reading connections with students

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MFL MarMac teachers Jessica Peterson, Trish Solberg, Melissa Haberichter, Sara Wille and Lynn Jones gather at the school’s monthly staff book club. Now in its third year, the club has helped staff connect with students through reading. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

MFL MarMac staff members are forging new connections with one another, as well as their students, through participation in a monthly book club.

Now in its third year, the club was the brainchild of the district’s teacher-librarian, Melissa Haberichter.

“I was in the process of upping the volume of reading at the high school. With school and the business of life, reading just didn’t feel as important to them,” she said. “But there were kids who missed it and wanted it.”

One way to inspire the kids, she thought, was to have them see their own teachers reading—and not just educational tomes or classroom materials, but reading for fun.

“The goal was for reading to be more visible to kids and that they’d see it’s OK to read,” she said.

Staff latched onto the idea. Twelve to 15 people, from all three centers, meet in the high school library each month, sharing what they’ve been individually reading and making suggestions for one another. Haberichter provides a variety of books for them to peruse.

“It’s not your typical club where we all get the same book,” said Haberichter. 

Books range from romance and sci-fi to historical fiction and mysteries. Most are titles middle or high school students would read. Some of the books they’ve even suggested. That’s all by design.

“I can’t possibly read all these books,” Haberichter shared, “but I want to know more.” So she asks the teachers to help her out. “I asked if they’d be willing to read young adult, which is really no different than adult fiction now; I don’t think of it as separate. Some teachers are willing to read anything.”

When suggesting titles to students, Haberichter said her opinion carries weight, but having the perspective of another staff member makes it even better.

“Hearing their words helps me book talk to the kids,” she explained.

Now, students even directly ask their teachers about the books they are reading.

“I feel a sense of responsibility because they’re looking for what I’m reading. And that relationship builds with the students,” said high school teacher Jessica Peterson. “Yes, I’m the math teacher, but I now have a book in my hands and I’m reading the same book as them. It starts a conversation.”

Even at the elementary level, third grade teacher Trish Solberg said her students are curious about the books she reads.

“I talk with my students about it,” she said, “and then later they can share and talk about the books they’re reading. It’s modeling.”

Haberichter is seeing the results. More and more high school students are reading for fun—and they’re not afraid to show it.

“I’ll walk down the hall or be at the football game and students will say, ‘That book you gave me was so good,’” she commented.

She’s even organized a read-in for later this week that will allow kids to have an in-school field trip to the library for several periods of reading. They can curl up in comfy chairs and enjoy warm drinks and snacks, all while enjoying a good book.

By reading for fun, Haberichter said students grow their reading skills as a whole, and they also become better writers. It can help relieve stress too. Books, she added, offer a mirror into their own lives or a window into another’s.

“You can see yourself in a book, or you can walk in someone else’s shoes,” she said. “That makes you more empathetic.”

Agriculture teacher Sarah Wille said she’s realized that herself.

“I read about students who are having a hard time and it helps me relate,” she explained. “I know there are kids here who are really going through that.”

Solberg said the book club has helped take her out of her reading comfort zone.

“I’m reading a variety of books,” she noted, “from lower age level to adult.”

Haberichter is pleased the group has had such an impact on both staff and students.

“I love the level of conversations around books,” she said with a smile.

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