Orange Public Schools: Want to Get Kids Reading? Get Everyone Reading!

This academic year in my district, Orange Public Schools, in Orange, NJ—I had a big challenge: I needed a way to get students reading independently. Independent reading can have a powerful effect on literacy achievement, and I knew that this was an important practice that we needed to do regularly in Orange schools. But how to make independent reading part of our district’s literacy culture?

I decided to focus on the concept of modeling: I thought that if students saw adults reading, they would be more inclined to do it themselves. I wanted kids to see adults across the community reading and discussing books, articles, blogs—anything they wanted to read. I pitched my initial idea—which was to involve teachers, and call on the resources of our partners—to the Orange Board of Education Cabinet. The Superintendent, Ronald Lee, loved the idea but challenged me to go bigger. He approached the Mayor and invited him to our next Cabinet meeting.

Before the meeting with the Mayor, the Orange ELA team brainstormed about every aspect of this initiative, from the name to strategies for making it operational. By the time the Cabinet met with Mayor Warren, the team had named the initiative and developed a strong plan for how to promote it internally. The Mayor supported us with ideas on how to engage the rest of the community.

The Orange Public Library Director Timur Davis took over the reins, working with me and Barry Devone, Orange Public Schools Community Engagement Officer, to arrange other signpost events to promote the reading challenge and get community buy-in, such as presenting to the religious leaders at the Interfaith Coalition of Churches meetings.

In an effort to promote reading and increase the capacity and fluency of our students, the Orange Board of Education, in partnership with the City of Orange Township, launched The Orange Page Turners' Reading Challenge on November 17, 2016, with a kick-off event at the Orange Public Library.

The goal of the reading challenge was for the entire community to read one million pages between November 25, 2016 and May 1, 2017. Each Orange Township resident and business owner was challenged to promote reading by participating in one of the online reading platforms. The community embraced the challenge head-on. In December a few of our senior high school students created a catchy theme song to a contemporary hit, which played in all schools to help promote the challenge. “Don't Stop the READING,” was played for all at the January Board of Education meeting.

Stakeholders were updated monthly on our progress and encouraged to participate at local school events where our partners donated books and Clifford the Big Red Dog read to lucky young residents. In the month of March, Scholastic treated Ms. Jones’s 6th grade class to a visit from Tony Brown, NBA Referee, for collectively logging in the most pages of independent reading into one of our tracking systems. One of Orange’s Assistant Principals told me:

“This was just awesome! All of the guests were very nice and genuinely interacted with the children. They got to listen to Mr. Brown read and then he invited some students to read. He complimented the students on how respectful and helpful they were of one another. Then they got into a great question-and-answer session. He autographed everyone's book, and what was most special was that he said he would only do it under one condition: if they would autograph his book, because this was just as much a treat for him as it was for them!"

Top readers were also treated to a NJ Devils hockey game and received drawstring bags to acknowledge their accomplishment and encourage them to continue reading. I am happy to announce that on May 2nd the community of Orange, NJ has logged in 1,029,591 pages, which surpassed our goal! Winners will be announced and awarded at our Literacy Block Party in June. 

With the continued support of the Deputy Superintendent Dr. Paula Howard the initiative was successful. Over the last few months, I learned that my initial hunch was correct: that in order to get kids to read, they need to belong to a community of readers. By creating a shared goal across Orange, we were able to do just that.