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Pardeeville Middle School makes time for reading

November 23, 2018
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Teacher Heather Falkner visits fifth-grader Evan Miller as he reads on the floor of her classroom Tuesday during an all-day reading activity at Pardeeville Middle School. Falkner set up her classroom to look like a sleepover, hanging several blankets over her classroom chairs and tables.

PARDEEVILLE — Pardeeville Middle School never seemed quieter than Tuesday.

The only sounds in the early morning seemed to be the voices of Counselor Courtney Sturtevant and Principal David Bell as they explained why the school had put aside its normal schedule for reading and reading alone.

The two of them talked in Sturtevant’s office — far enough away from the classrooms so as not to disturb, for example, eighth-grader Mya Noyons, who was reading “Resistance” by Jennifer Nielsen, or Noyons’ teacher, Mike Craig, who was reading “Mr. Churchill’s Secretary” by Susan Elia MacNeal.

“These kids really can get lost in a book,” Sturtevant said of the approximately 270 participating students in grades 5-8. “We want them to remember that.”

The idea for the school’s activity — the “Read-a-thon” or “Read-in,” as some of the students called it — came from middle/high school physical education teacher Alex Hammerschmidt. He had participated in all-day reading activities when he was a student at Lake Denoon Middle School in Muskego during the early 2000s, and he explained to Bell how the activity helped boost his interest in books.

“Maybe over the long holiday break, students will pick up a book instead of getting screen time,” Bell said of the primary reason for launching the activity. The school is likely to do it at least one more time this school year and probably right before another holiday break. They might hold them quarterly next school year after they see how it goes in 2018-19.

“The basic idea is that the students, right now, they’re comfortable,” Sturtevant said. “They’re relaxed.”

“It’s hard to get kids focused, so having a day like today is ideal.”

On Monday, the teachers helped students find books that matched the students’ interests and ability levels. Bell himself planned to read “The Great Alone” by Kristin Hannah. One of his teachers had recommended the book to him — the entire teaching staff seemingly excited to spend their days reading in their classrooms.

“Time is an issue for any age group,” Bell admitted. “I can say I need to read more, but then I get home with three kids and I’ll say, ‘Oh, where’s the time?’”

The middle school students took “brain breaks” every hour — 10 to 15 minutes were set aside for physical activity like dancing, stretching, jumping jacks or push-ups to help clear their minds. The students also spent time interacting with their classmates between reading sessions — that camaraderie an important part of any school day, Sturtevant said.

Hammerschmidt still remembers the students in Muskego attending school in pajamas for reading days — also using pillows and eating popcorn.

“It was a great way to make reading fun,” the 2010 Muskego High School graduate said. “I was an active kid who couldn’t stop moving, and this was a way to get me focused on reading. It’s something we all looked forward to.

“I had never really enjoyed reading before that, but when we would have these days, it was exciting.”

Today, Hammerschmidt said he reads a “decent amount,” though perhaps his reading list includes too many professional materials. As a middle school student, he would read spy novels in the “Alex Rider” series, as well as the “Captain Underpants” and “Magic Tree House” series.

Twenty pages into “Resistance,” Noyons explained how her book was about a girl rebelling against Hitler during World War II — its heroine right then getting food for her family in concentration camps and plotting their escape using fake IDs. Noyons expected to finish the book over her Thanksgiving holiday, which started Wednesday.

“I enjoy reading, so this is good timing for me,” Noyons said. “I think sometimes people get too wrapped up in things like video games, and they don’t realize that reading is super important.

“I think reading is something that can help you throughout your life. If you can read well, it sets up your future.”

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