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‘Better Together’ reading initiatives inspire readers at all grade levels

Throughout the 2023-24 school year, CCS students are participating in the new ‘Better Together’ reading initiatives. Each month has a new book with a variety of activities available to support the theme. The themes are connected to the character education program (SEL). Sue Varone, elementary literacy liaison, collaborated with Melissa Johnson, elementary counselor, to connect literature with the character education word of the month. Rachel Salisbury, secondary literacy liaison, developed monthly reading and writing challenges that are also connected to the character education themes.

Sue Varone and Rachel Salisbury are coordinating all of the initiatives and events throughout the year. With input from administration and staff, the goal is to create a united UPK-12 through literacy. Strengthening ties with home and community is an additional goal.

“Since this is a UPK-12 initiative, we wanted all students to have the opportunity to hear the same story and be part of a school-wide activity,” said Sue Varone. “The book, ‘The Together Tree’ by Aisha Saeed, was purchased and read to all of the students. We asked for a tree to be created to decorate our hallways. Since October, the trees have been decorated with a variety of items based on the monthly book. We have additional books and ideas for the remainder of the school year. In the spring, all students will read ‘Wishtree’ by Katherine Applegate. The goal is to plant our own tree and decorate it with our wishes.”

In September, students and teachers built paper trees and displayed them throughout the building. The secondary also hosted an ice cream party for those who participated in summer reading. The district would like to thank Stewart’s Shops for their generous donation of the ice cream. In October, the district hosted a storytelling night, featuring members of the Cambridge Historical Society with individuals and businesses from the Cambridge community. In November, the district began participating in the Read for Ronald McDonald House Charities.

The Read for Ronald McDonald House Charities was a big success. More than 50 students participated and earned a total of $4,474.30! Eli Woelfersheim, a third grader, earned more than $500 in donations. As a result, the Ronald McDonald House is providing him with a Read for RMHC t-shirt. Ethan McCauley was the high school student who raised the most money. All participants will receive a special certificate, reward and pizza party!

Additionally, students were encouraged to read both in and out of school and complete a “reading ticket” to add to the reading themed box. In November, 319 books were read and in December, 63 reading tickets were submitted. The student who read and submitted the most reading tickets in November and December was Oliver Andrew in kindergarten. Kindergarten was the grade level with the most submitted tickets for November and December. In November, Mrs. Keyes’ class read the most. In December, it was Ms. Kress’ class. These students, classes and grade levels will be honored at a future assembly. The reading tickets will be collected for the remainder of the school year.

The secondary is also using reading tickets for their reading challenges. A tree has been built in the hallway where titles of books that participants are reading are posted. Currently, the 11th and 12th graders in Mrs. Andrew’s classes are reading the most this year, with the 10th graders coming in second. Ms. Salisbury has also re-established the HS Book Club that has about 10 members so far this year.

The initiative is working to ensure that all students in grades UPK-12 find pleasure in reading.

“The secondary English department has been rededicating time to reading for enjoyment,” said Rachel Salisbury. “Approximately two to three times a week students at all grade levels read for a set amount of time. There is no grade attached to this reading and the students can read anything of their choice. We have also added some free writing and drawing activity time in order to give students some more time to decompress and tap into their creativity. The English department is highlighting some of the themes that will be discussed in ‘Wishtree’ this spring.”

There are a number of fun and exciting activities planned for the remainder of the school year. There will be at least one more evening event for families of all ages (more information to follow). The district is hoping to do a fundraiser with the American Heart Association starting in February. The overall goal of the initiative is to increase student participation and create school wide enthusiasm for literacy at all grade levels.

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