‘Nenana City School Fosters a Shared Love of Reading’ by Principal Dave Huntington

Nenana City School is a sub-grantee of Alaska’s Comprehensive Literacy Development Grant award. Part of our many initiatives to support and promote literacy in our student body has been the implementation of a quarterly book distribution. The idea is simple: Each student enrolled in our K-12 school receives a book each quarter. So far we have had a 100% participation rate in our student body, from Kindergarten to high school Seniors.

Depending on the grade level and students’ background, teachers have been consulting with students on their book of choice. However, the primary goal of this initiative is to promote leisure reading in students, and therefore students have the ultimate say in what it is they receive for their book distribution. One elementary teacher shared, “My students look forward to the book distribution every quarter and they have even started choosing the same books to read together!” 

The results of the book distributions seem to have been positive overall. Parents and guardians are quite thankful that their students are coming home with books they’re interested in. The students themselves really appreciate being able to choose their own books based on their interests, or have someone help them based on their interests. While this process is pretty straightforward for the K-8 crowd, a lot of our high school students don’t read for leisure, and have had a hard time figuring out what kind of books they’d even want to pick up in their spare time. What could compete with Fortnite anyway?

It turns out that our high school students responded quite well to the program, with 30% of students who were asked about their first book saying they read it. One high school teacher noted, “Students are reading, they are assertively selecting what they want to read, and their reading scores went up significantly. That, to me, has been our emphasis with our literacy focus and I think that it is bearing fruit.” When it came time to request their third book, 60% of students said they had read one of the previous two. On the high school level, we essentially saw the amount of our student body reading during their leisure time double.

Of the initiative, Nenana City School student Leilani Wholecheese reflected:

I think receiving books every quarter has helped me to enjoy reading a bit more. Having to read a specific book as a class didn’t give us a choice, therefore most of us didn’t enjoy reading in class. When the book is chosen by the teacher, it is not guaranteed that all of us will like it. Additionally, being forced to do things when we don’t have a choice hinders us from enjoying the experience. Now that I’ve got the option to choose I feel more connected to what I’m reading, and I can get lost in the story. Overall, this decision to let us have a say in what books we want is pushing us closer to improving our learning skills. Reading helps us to expand our vocabulary, refine our writing skills, and spark some creativity in us. Now that we actually like the book we’re reading, I feel that we’ll be more intrigued to learn.

“Now that I’ve got the option to choose I feel more connected to what I’m reading, and I can get lost in the story.”

We look forward to continuing the program throughout the lifetime of the grant, partnering this initiative with long-held traditions like our annual book fairs. We’re hopeful that we will continue to see a positive trend towards more students choosing to pick up a book in their spare time, where they can practice what they’re learning in the classroom.