Sullivan Middle hosts reading party to engage students

Students scribbling furiously on paper, discussing adjectives and verbs and listening intently may not seem like normal activities for a July day at a school, but that’s exactly what was happening at Sullivan Middle School Wednesday during one of the school’s “Reading Parties.”

This party, one of several the school faculty has held throughout the summer in Sullivan’s media center, featured a writing workshop with local children’s book author Kimberly Johnson.

Johnson, whose most recent book is “No Fear for Freedom: The Story of the Friendship 9,” ran the students through their paces. They did a set of rapid-fire brainstorming activities, and within minutes, the students had come up with enough information to craft a full essay.

“And that’s how easy it is to come up with ideas,” Johnson said.

Sullivan Middle School “is all about literacy,” said assistant principal Jennise Knight.

Everyone knows about the summer learning gap, Knight said, and while it may be difficult to get students to practice math or social studies or science over the summer, “reading, we can fix.”

The school’s summer parties, which include literacy activities and lunch, are also intended to drum up excitement about Sullivan’s common reading, “Laugh With The Moon,” by Shana Burg. Every student and teacher at Sullivan has to read the book during the summer months.

“We wanted something with global awareness,” said Knight of this summer’s pick, which tells the story of a young girl’s move to the African country of Malawi following the death of her mother.

The school wanted to select something that contained International Baccalaureate learner qualities, like being open-minded and caring. But the school also wanted the book to contain elements to which middle school students could relate, like making new friends and learning the importance of family.

“I thought it was really good,” said rising sixth-grader Sydney Jackson of the book. “It let you know what life would be like in Malawi.”

Jackson said she could also personally relate to the book because of the life-changing events that impacted Clara, the book’s main character.

Another student, who said the summer reading parties were a lot of fun, said he hadn’t read the book yet, but was looking forward to it.

“I like the fact we all read the same book,” said Chase Erwin, an eighth-grader. “We all can relate to it.”

To wrap up her workshop, Johnson told the students what it was like to write “No Fear for Freedom,” and how she had to do research and interviews and, in her writing, had to capture feelings and actions, just like the students had done that morning.

“Everybody’s an author,” she told the students. “Use your words.”