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Noble Community Reads Together

March 31, 2017 -- The childers of Noble Elementary School and their families recently enjoyed snozzcumber sandwiches and frobscottle, after listening to fifth grade students sing about phizzwizards and trogglehumpers.

Are you biffsquiggled yet?

If so, you are clearly not a member of the Noble community, where every student, teacher, and staff member recently read Roald Dahl’s The BFG, an elementary novel about a Big Friendly Giant, enhanced by its own imaginary language. The school participated in the One School, One Book program, which Roxboro Elementary School also participated in this past winter.

The program, sponsored by the national Read to Them organization, allows schools to select one book for their entire population to read at once, provides enough copies of the book for all students and staff, and offers ideas for activities.

Alicia Burkle, co-president of Noble’s PTA, brought the idea to Principal Rachael Coleman last summer, who then pulled in Title 1 lead literacy teacher Teresa Ware. Ware, who had been researching school-community engagement projects as part of her administrative certification, saw OSOB as the perfect opportunity.

“One School, One Book supports literacy in the home, giving parents tips and tools to be successful,” she said, while also building community within a school building. She wanted students to have some responsibility over the project, so she allowed them to select the book they would read.

At a kickoff assembly last fall, Ware introduced the project and showed movie or book trailers for each of four possible options: The BFG and James and the Giant Peach both by Roald Dahl, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and Charlie Bumpers Versus the Teacher of the Year by Bill Harley.

Students were then able to fill out a ballot featuring images of each book, so that even emerging readers could make their voices heard. The BFG won, with Charlie Bumpers coming in second.

Ware wanted to make sure the students didn’t forget that this project was coming, even though the OSOB committee had scheduled it for March. Her Motivation Squad, a group of 35 girls, wrote and performed cheers and songs about OSOB at school-wide assemblies three times throughout the year.

In the week before the official kick-off, giant footprints created by PTA co-vice president Brooke Baldwin began appearing in different spots around the building. “The BFG is coming, the BFG is coming,” was a constant refrain heard throughout the school and a mysterious letter with just those words and covered with giant footprints was sent home to families.

Finally, students gathered for a kickoff assembly where a giant letter written by the BFG himself was read aloud to the “childers” of Noble.

“You may notice I’ve been checking out the various areas in your school building,” the letter said. “I especially like what I saw near the third grade classrooms, where...” He went on to name specific activities or lessons he had witnessed around the building, making the children feel as if he had truly been there watching them.

An informational letter and reading timeline was sent home, encouraging children to read one or two chapters of the book with their families each evening. One of the main goals of OSOB is for reading to become a communal experience in schools and in households. According to their website, “The benefits of reading aloud are remarkable. Studies have shown that reading to children helps them to listen better and longer, to build bigger vocabularies, to understand concepts better, to feel positive about both books and learning – and much more.”

Noble’s team wanted to make reading the book as desirable as possible, so Ware provided trivia questions based on the previous night’s chapters multiple times each week. Students also got to participate in Stump the Principal and Stump the Teacher, where they earned rewards if they came up with a question that Principal Coleman or their homeroom teachers were unable to answer.

One of the most exciting components of this project was the fifth grade vocal music concert, which featured songs and skits inspired by the BFG. Music teacher Jenna Hall Tucker got involved early on, reading the book as soon as it was chosen, knowing that the musical production would be built around it.

Students perform their original play on stage

Students in theatrical makeup

She discussed several thematic options with her fifth graders, who are involved in the decision making, writing lyrics and set designing for their final elementary school show each year.

“We tossed around ideas like the BFG’s special hearing ability or sound effects, but settled on the idea of dreams.” Specifically, phizzwizards -- good dreams -- and trogglehumpers, which Dahl describes as “worse than your worst nightmare.”

The concert’s highlight was the final song “Reach,” featuring two trios of singers, a small ensemble and one soloist. The moving performance wove together ideas from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with the hopes and dreams of today’s young people.

Soloist Jayla Putnam even composed portions of the song herself to make it feel like her own. “I was nervous at first, but I knew I could do it. Now I just feel relieved,” she said after the show.

Kamyah McDonald, who was a member of the small ensemble, learned more than just music from this process. “I learned how to work together as a team.”

Xavier Moore also learned valuable lessons. “When it came time for the afternoon concert, I was really nervous,” said the fifth grader. “But I fought through it and now I’m really proud.”

His mother, Nico Moore, was proud too. “I just loved it! There was a whole different level of excitement and energy that came from these kids. They were so engaged.”

The PTA purposefully planned a family event to follow the fifth grade show. “This is why we have such a great turnout,” said Burkle of the standing room only auditorium. “We made sure the kids would really want to come tonight, because their persistence and excitement are what get parents to come back to school after a long day at work.”

Alicia Burkle and her family

Following the concert, families enjoyed BFG-themed sandwiches and snacks, made dream jars to capture their own phizzwizards, measured themselves against the BFG in the gymnasium and tested their skills at giant tic-tac-toe and hopscotch. Even community partner Lake Erie Ink was present with “squibbling” activities centered around dreams.

Families making dream catchers

Snacks and cookies

All in the all, the One School One Book experience was a positive one, for students, teachers and families. “We are already thinking about how to do this next year,” said Burkle.