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Inspiring ‘lifelong readers’ at MCC

By RILEY KELLEY Daily News Staff WriterMay 25, 2019

SCOTTVILLE — Sophomores at Mason County Central High School on Friday had a chance to reap the benefits of the Unbound program, which is capping off a successful first year at the school district.

The Unbound program is a collaborative effort between the Scottville Library, MCC schools and the Community Foundation for Mason County. It provides all kindergarten through 12th-grade students with library accounts they can use to access the district library catalogue from computers at their school building or from their smartphones through an app called Libby.

During Friday’s Unbound “pop-up” event, English teacher Becky Gerhart decorated her classroom with bouquets, candy and a selection of books in a variety of different genres — from fiction, non-fiction, mystery and more — and students shuffled in and out to explore the literary offerings and learn about the Libby app.

Gerhart encouraged students to interact with the books — to pick them up, flip through pages, browse through and be on the lookout for anything they might be interested in.

“You’ll get a taste of each genre,” she told students. “Have an open mind.”

Gerhart and Mason County District Library Director Skinner said the event is meant to perpetuate awareness of the program and expose young readers to things they might not normally think to look for.

“This is about the exposure,” Skinner said. “Kids don’t know what they can’t see, so this is about putting it on the radar that there are books available at the public library.”

Gerhart said the event was also an assignment that students will pick up at the start of the next school year.

“When they start next year, they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember doing that, and I’m going to use Unbound this school year, too,’” Skinner added.

Students will also be able to check out ebooks, audiobooks and hard copies with their Unbound accounts during the summer as well, Skinner said.

The program has been a success, despite getting off to a late start.

“I was hoping to start in January, so I set a goal for myself for the second half of the year to check out 2,400 items, which would be like the equivalent of every kid checking out two books,” Skinner said, noting that the goal for the year has already been met and exceeded.

“I’ve checked out more than 2,700 items,” she said. “I was surprised and thrilled that I’d exceeded my goal in such a short amount of time.”

Skinner said it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of educators in the district, who have made an extra effort to make books accessible and to make reading exciting for students.

For Gerhart, getting students to read — and, more than that, to enjoy reading — is a personal mission and a constant motivator.

“In order to have our students become lifelong readers, we need to give them options, and we need to give them things they want to read,” Gerhart said. “The partnership with the Mason County District Library is really important because it opens up a whole other avenue that’s available.”

She said it’s helpful not only for avid readers, but also for kids who have yet to establish their literary tastes.

“To have this tactile experience shows them that the library has stuff that they might want to read,” Gerhart said. “It’s just another way to increase access. There’s a whole lot the library has to offer that (students) might not be aware of unless we increase exposure like this.

“I’ve watched students grow this year … because of the increased access to the library,” Gerhart said. “So that matters.”

Gerhat’s classroom is lined with books, and on the whiteboard there’s a chart where her students track the amount of books they’ve read during the school year.

“I’ve been selecting books and I’ve been setting goals. In the first trimester, (my students) read 220 books, so in this next trimester I said we’re going to read at least 220 books and at least 55,000 pages,” she said. “They’ve already read almost 62,000 pages, and we have 24 books that still need to be read. By the end of the school year, we’ll have them, for sure. We’re totally going to meet that goal.”

She said keeping track of progress and making it a joint effort is a way to make the it visible and tangible — something bigger than themselves that they can be a part of.

The Unbound program started with a grant from the Community Foundation for Mason County and a dream of broadening the literary horizons of students at MCC schools and, eventually, students throughout the county.

Teachers at MCC have taken notice of Skinner’s efforts, and during Tuesday’s annual awards ceremony, she received the Public Citizenship Award for her work with the program.

Fittingly, the award was presented by Gerhart, who called Skinner her “partner in literacy.”

Skinner credits the collaborative nature of the program with its success, adding that she’s looking forward to seeing just how much the program can grow.

“We started out with a mission of creating a culture of literacy in our county,” Skinner said. “That’s a lofty goal, but this is how we do it.”

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