When freshman Paulina Freed first came to Conestoga in September, she was nervous about starting a new school. She knew, however, that there was at least one thing she would have common with everyone else at the school, her summer reading. With Conestoga’s “One Book, One ’Stoga” program, every Conestoga student, regardless of grade and English class read “The Glass Castle.”
“For me, the fact that you know at least something that’s going to be the same in every grade [was reassuring],” Freed said. “You’re coming in [and] everyone’s reading the same books so it kind of helps bring the school together.”
The “One Book, One ’Stoga” program was modeled after a similar program in Philadelphia and at other schools. In the program, the entire school reads a certain book for summer reading and holds discussions about the book, with students from every grade level participating, during the first couple weeks of school. “One Book, One ’Stoga” was instituted after the 2009-2010 school year, when all students were assigned to read Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.” However, the English department has decided not to continue the policy for this coming summer.
“We were having trouble finding a book that would be appropriate, or books that would be appropriate, for all grades and all levels of readers, something that could be a meaningful experience for everyone,” English teacher Megan Doyle said. ”
Wendy Towle, a district curriculum supervisor, agrees, noting the diversity between the youngest and oldest students could not be bridged in one book.
“I definitely liked the idea behind the ‘One Book, One ’Stoga’ approach to building a reading community. I think I definitely agreed with the teachers and the feedback we got from the kids too that it was very, very difficult to find a good book that appealed to kids who are ninth grade and kids who are in 12th grade,” Towle said. “They’re just at very different places, different interests, different levels of maturity [and] different levels of literary skill.”
Choosing summer reading is a difficult balancing act for teachers because they must pick books that relate to the course curriculum and appeal to a broad range of stdents in order to avoid alienating them from reading over the summer. The added task of finding a book that would be appropriate for all grades proved too challenging for the English teachers this year. Although choosing summer reading books for individual classes helps to ensure that each class has a book that meets its specific needs, Doyle believes “One Book, One ’Stoga” provided the school with a sense of unity.
“We thought it would be something neat to do so siblings could talk about it and friends in other grade levels and it would keep, I think, some students from feeling marginalized, like ‘I’m reading this little book and someone is reading this big book.’ So we saw it as kind of a unifying experience,” Doyle said.
Conestoga is not alone. Numerous libraries, cities and schools across the country have adopted similar programs to unify their communities. The first such program originated in Seattle in 1998 when the Washington Center for the Public Book used grants and funding from local sponsors to initiate its “If All Seattle Read the Same Book” program.
According to the Library of Congress, in December 2005, there were more than 350 “One Book” programs in the United States. These programs have a similar purpose as Conestoga’s program. They aim to unite the community through discussion over a common book.
Junior Brendan Bense believes asssigning different books for different courses is a better approach than “One Book, One ’Stoga” because with the books under the program are often not challenging enough for higher-level English courses.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” “was more aimed at what seemed like, I feel like would be something I would’ve read in sixth or seventh grade comparatively to now,” Bense said.
Sophomore Alyssa Marino thinks that “The Glass Castle” was a good choice for the Conestoga community.
“I feel like we need to be exposed to different experiences than what we have around and different life stories so we can learn and have a more well- rounded community,” Marino said.