Philadelphia Middle School students enjoyed lunch at Ole Mexico for their success in the reading initiative. Kademi was the March co-sponsor for the initiative. From left are Iyanla Lampley, Ashley Lewis, Ja'Darian Kirkland, Shakayla Boler, Dawn Lea Chalmers of Kademi, Dominic Eiland, Kierra Overstreet, Jz'Markeus Hobbs, Cortney Smith and MiKayla Griffin.
Philadelphia Middle School students enjoyed lunch at Ole Mexico for their success in the reading initiative. Kademi was the March co-sponsor for the initiative. From left are Iyanla Lampley, Ashley Lewis, Ja'Darian Kirkland, Shakayla Boler, Dawn Lea Chalmers of Kademi, Dominic Eiland, Kierra Overstreet, Jz'Markeus Hobbs, Cortney Smith and MiKayla Griffin.
The inaugural run of a new reading initiative at Philadelphia Middle School has been a huge success with nearly half the students scoring 80 percent or better on a rubric for their monthly projects.

Lee Ann Fulton, curriculum coordinator for the city school district, said the seventh and eighth grade program was incredibly successful.

Out of the 185 students, she said, 89 scored 80 percent or higher [an A or B grade].

"When we planned the program out we only expected a fourth of the students to do that well," she said.

The program calls for every student to read one book a month, complete a project and present it to the class.

The students were also required to participate in a collaborative discussion of the material, Fulton said.

The idea for this program started in January when teachers and administrators were brainstorming about ways to encourage students to read and tie it in with the Common Core standards.

"We had the idea for each student to take one book a month and do an in-depth project," Fulton said. "Then they would speak in front of their peers and were graded on being an active listener and engaging in the speaking."

The students got to select from one of eight projects: a pizza report similar to a pie chart, a poster, a summary, a diorama, a test, a CD, a brochure or an analysis of two characters from their book.

They were also given a rubric for each project, which detailed point-by-point what they had to do to earn a perfect grade.

"They [the projects] were rigorous and not easy to make but they [the students] rose to the challenge," Fulton said.

Eighth grade English teacher Catherine Hicks said the test and poster were the most popular projects.

After coming up with the idea and gathering the necessary materials, the teachers presented the reading initiative to students around Feb. 1.

"The students were against it at first," Hicks said, recalling one student in particular.

Eighth grader Javon Pickens told Hicks that he didn't want to read but after picking up his book, "Secrets in the Shadows" by Anne Schraff, he took it home and read through three chapters on the first night.

"I didn't like reading or want to do it," he said. "But I liked the action and now I'm reading 'Until We Meet Again' [by the same author]."

Pickens earned an 88 on his poster.

"We knew he would come through," Hicks said. "He kept asking for help whenever there was a problem."

Each student had to choose a book within his or her reading level. This included books in the Hunger Games and Bluford High series, as well as nonfiction books written by the cast of Duck Dynasty, to name a few.

"Common Core pushes nonfiction," Fulton said. "So a lot of the students chose nonfictions like biographies. The goal was to get them a book that interests them."

To help the students succeed, 10 minutes out of every student's Tornado Time, a daily study session, were dedicated to silent reading.

"They got engaged in their books," Hicks said.

Even the teachers and administrators got involved, Fulton added.

During Tornado Time every person in the middle school sat down and quietly read for 10 minutes. Fulton read "Winners" by Danielle Steel and Hicks read "What the Dog Did" by Emily Yoffe.

Even the city school district interim Superintendent Robert Turnage participated by reading "Sycamore Row" by John Grisham.

Projects were due on Feb. 25.

The turnout was great with a wide variety of projects, Hicks noted.

"We were shocked with how well some of the students did," she said, noting that it wasn't just the A and B students who succeeded. "The lower grade ones also excelled."

Hicks noted that out of 185 students, less than 10 failed.

"Those were the ones that didn't participate properly and threw something together," she said.

To earn a perfect score students had to follow the rubric.

Anjika Bose earned a 95 after reading "The Red Pyramid" by Rick Riordan.

"I forgot a few of the points [from the rubric]," Bose said.

Tanya Carter read "The Diary of Anne Frank" and earned a 95 for her poster.

"We were already reading it in English class," she said.

The success of the program has gotten some to consider extending it to the high school.

"Some kids in the high school mentored the students and are now pushing to do this at the high school," Fulton said.

The students who earned 80 percent or higher were treated to a meal at a local restaurant as a reward, courtesy of the sponsors.

The seventh grade students dined at Main Street Junction in February. The eighth grade students dined at Ole Mexico, courtesy of Ole Mexico and Kademi.

During the planning stage, it was suggested that the school try to get local businesses to sponsor the program each month.

"We wanted to get the community involved and Main Street Junction was one of the first," Fulton said. "They were going to write a check but the school instead suggested a meal."

After the meal, Turnage met the buses returning from Main Street Junction and congratulated each student and gave them a Kit Kat bar, she added.

This month the students will be treated to a Mardi Gras Party at the school and in April they will go on a bowling/skating trip.

In May a formal reception will be held to honor the students who did well all three months.

"We want to reward them [the students] and show that businesses and the community care," Fulton said. "We've gotten a positive response but we need more help."

Middle School Principal Chris Kennedy asks that any business interested in becoming a sponsor to contact Hicks at 601-416-1628 or call the school at 601-656-6439.

"Reading is the key and it will take you places," Fulton said.