The Value of "Community Reads" Experiences

The middle school journey is complex and often tumultuous. Social challenges, physical changes, and academic expectations are often at odds as students traverse the complex terrain of these three years of schooling. Parents and teachers face the challenging task of navigating this trying landscape as adolescents struggle to mask their insecurities while demanding greater independence. The dynamics of these relationships are multifaceted. Yes, the interactions between parent and child, student and teacher, teacher and parent can often feel disjointed, resulting in only a cacophony of “white noise” that is heard by the teenager. And yet, we know their need for belonging is great, and their desire for support is essential.  We know their voice needs to be heard, accepted, and applauded, giving relevance and credence to their ideas, opinions and perspective.

With this reality in mind, our community at Haldane Middle School in Cold Spring, N.Y., has embraced the opportunity for students, parents and teachers to engage in open and nonthreatening dialogue using a shared text as a catalyst for such conversation. In collaboration with our school librarian, our Middle School Improvement Team selected The Misfits by James Howe for our 2nd annual Community Reads evening. In turn, students, parents and teachers partook in rich conversation about the middle school experience as it related to the text. Using a Socratic framework, small breakout groups spent 45 minutes to one hour discussing The Misfits, utilizing a series of guiding questions to prompt conversation. A skilled facilitator leading each group allowed the conversation to move in different directions while ensuring no one voice dominated the discussion. 

The evening was held on February 26th with huge success. More than 70 participants discussed both the complexities and endearing qualities of the main characters—Skeezie, Bobby, Addie and Joe.  While each character was stoically caste as the band of misfits in this heartfelt account of middle school, their appeal resonated with everyone—young and old. Perhaps one parent’s unsolicited feedback best captures the spirit of the evening:

In addition to the important subject matter covered last night (and the very important conversations that took place), the kids experienced an evening at school and with their friends that wasn’t about performances or expectations or, even, their futures, but, instead, allowed them to be who they are right in this moment without judgment or constraint. What a gift for them to be given the time and space to have honest discussions about the tricky social terrain of adolescence (and life!) while being supported by the net of this incredible community.

In essence, students, parents and staff all came together for an evening to proudly recognize that we are all misfits. Free of judgment and free of constraint, we believe our Community Reads experience helps to make the middle school journey feel slightly less vulnerable and far more certain.