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For the Love of Reading - Ziyana K. and Hope V.

March 19

You could say the two of us were among the lucky ones: we learned to love reading even before we fully understood its significance. Reading is important, they said - they always said that - and it was not until we reached our senior years of high school that we fully understood why.

It was in middle school when it became difficult to continue reading for pleasure. Many of us stopped reading altogether - not because we hated reading all of a sudden, but because our friends and our classmates started to find reading boring and unimpressive. And so we gave it up. We will do anything to fit in, after all, even if it means forgetting our love for reading and our identities as readers. What we never realized at the time is that abandoning our reading habits actually becomes a serious threat to our ability to be successful as we transition into high school, and after. After all, it is through reading, writing, and speaking that we communicate with one another, so in the end taking away reading would damage our ability to successfully communicate, and relate to others around us - it is a domino effect, and this is what makes it so harmful as we grow older.

On Thursday, February 15th, 108 students from the high school ventured to FFCA North and South Middle Schools to encourage and inspire these younger students as readers by sharing our own reading stories and journeys. We spent our morning at the South Middle School, then travelled to the North for the afternoon. At both schools we gave presentations in all of the homerooms from Grades 5 to 8 using drama, art, writing and discussion to engage the students via a variety of learning styles to allow kids with different strengths to shine at some point during our time together. We submerged ourselves in worlds of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, exploring different genres and learning about our individual reading identities and goals.

We shared with the classes which books we were passionate about in middle school and some books that we are still passionate about now. It was our hope that by doing this, we would be able to spark that same passion in them; that they might end up loving our own favourite books just as much as we did. We ended the presentation at each school by having the students create a pledge hand; the kids drew outlines of their hands, writing their daily reading goal on the palm and the titles of the books they most wanted to read on the fingers. We also left them with several follow-through activities for Reading Ladders and our twitter #ffcaread to make sure that they kept reading even after the day ended and their reading pledges are fulfilled.

Reading is more than just a past time. Reading teaches us to build worlds in our minds, giving us insight into who we are as individuals and what we value. It is an escape into the realm of imagination - an escape that cannot easily be found anywhere else. Part of our purpose in coming to the middle schools was to offer this opportunity of creativity for them, to offer them this escape into worlds that are all their own. It’s also through reading that we learn what it means to walk in the shoes of another person and develop both a sense of empathy and a greater understanding of the world. This is what reading offers us, and it is because of this that we hope these students will come to find value in the books that inspired, entertained, and taught us when we were in middle school.

The 108 high school students who came to speak at the middle schools included both avid readers as well as people who never developed healthy reading habits but wished they had. Because we were able to represent this range of readers and non-readers with the high school students we brought to the middle school, we felt as though we were better able to relate to the middle schoolers. We, in fact, were them once upon a time, and in sharing our own diverse experiences and challenges when it came to reading, we helped them to realize this. Our presentation ultimately had less to do with us preaching the value of reading and more to do with offering the middle-schoolers a glimpse into their futures the same way that they reminded us of our pasts. Though the day began with us setting the intention to inspire them, in this process many of us were inspired. For the Love of Reading reminded us of why we loved reading so much in the first place, and why it is so important to develop those habits early.

By the time we get to high school, it becomes clear that establishing habits as readers in middle school is fundamental to our academic success and often determines our eligibility for entrance into post-secondary institutions. In the province of Alberta, the only two courses one is required to take in order to graduate from high school are a 30 level English course and a 30 level Social Studies course - both of which rely heavily on reading comprehension, writing proficiency, and communication skills. In order to be successful in these capacities, we need to be strong readers with established reading habits.

To further this, the only high school course that is mandated as a prerequisite for every single university program is English 30-1. Many high school students have been forced to give up their dream of going to university because they were unable to be successful in this course, almost always as a direct result of never having developed healthy reading habits. This is how For the Love of Reading began - high school students like us were forced to confront the reality that they would never be able to pursue a post-secondary education, and so, they wished they could go back to talk to their middle school selves and impress upon them the importance of reading. For the Love of Reading is our chance to do just that - because these kids should not have to give up on their dreams just because they didn’t have the foresight to establish these reading habits.

If we can encourage students to read and help to reduce the confusion that surrounds being a reader in middle school, we ultimately reduce the struggle that students have with reading during high school. And so - at this second annual For the Love of Reading (which we hope to continue in the future) - we want to inspire a love for reading.

We hope we are seen as the embodiment of FFCA’s mission and vision as leaders with character who aspire to excellence and service.  We are so grateful to have the opportunity to go to the middle schools to do this - so, thank you to the staff members, administrators, and students who make this worthy endeavor possible.  A special shout out to Ms. Johnson who helped us be the lucky ones, who helped us to love reading and writing in middle school, and to thank her for having us back to present to her class - perhaps we helped to save the reading identities of another young Ziyana and Hope too.

Ziyana & Hope

Ziyana and Hope are graduating students who have been in AP English, Creative Writing, and our Performing Arts program.  You can follow their blogs by clicking their names.