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Rox El Community Bonds Over Book
Students sitting on floor listening to author speak
Mar. 7, 2018 -- It takes an artistically-gifted beetle, his 11-year-old best friend James, and all of Roxboro Elementary’s students to solve the mystery of a famous painting stolen from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

No, our local students haven't gotten caught up in a world-famous art heist, but they have been participating in the national One School, One Book program. Every student, teacher and staff member at Rox El recently received a copy of Elise Broach’s fast-paced mystery, Masterpiece, starring a boy and his pet beetle. It is the second year the school has participated in this program and it was as successful as ever.

The two-week adventure was kicked off with a school-wide assembly on January 30, but the planning began many months prior. A steering committee made up of Principal Shelly Pulling, 1st grade teacher Liz McKinley, Title I Literacy teacher Candace Summers, and parents Clare Taft and Mary Pat Jolivette began meeting over the summer to search for an appropriate book and lay out activities. 

“It’s always hard to find a book that will appeal to students from kindergarten through 5th grade,” said Ms. Summers. “But this one definitely did.”

“My students love being able to say that they’re reading the same book as their older siblings,” said Ms. McKinley. In reality, most of her students are just listening to the book, but this year, even that task has taken on special meaning. Back in the fall, parent Adam Dew filmed building teachers reading aloud each chapter of the story and posted the entire book online. This allowed emerging readers to follow along or entire families to turn it on and listen together as they prepared dinner.

“This has truly brought the parents, students and community together around the subject of literacy,” said Principal Pulling.

Ms. Summers agrees. “We are definitely reaping the benefits of the funds we invested in this,” she said of the Title I and PTA dollars spent on the program. “Kids who aren't usually involved are now fully engaged.”

Some of the exciting activities complementing the book have included reading aloud to therapy dogs, a Literacy Night with crafts, games and dinner for students and their families, a Scavenger Hunt at the Coventry Library, observing real-live beetles purchased by teacher Kim Bischoff, and a day-long visit from the book’s author, Elise Broach. Ms. Broach traveled from Easton, Connecticut to visit Roxboro School as well as another in Highland, thus halving the cost to each building.

Ms. Broach planned three different presentations appropriate to the combined grade levels in her audience, one for kindergarten and 1st grade, another for 2nd and 3rd, and yet another for 4th and 5th. The students were fully engaged and, if Ariel Gilbert is any indication, they were gleaning valuable knowledge. The 5th grader said, “Learning from a real author changes the way I write my own stories.” 

His classmate Katy Jaycox was equally inspired, especially by how the book highlighted creative uses for tiny everyday objects. “It made me think about things differently, like how a beetle could sit on an eraser or how he might use a paperclip. I was impressed by the dollhouse nature of the story.”

Ms. Broach was impressed by the students as well. While taking questions from the 4th and 5th graders, she paused before responding, “First of all, let me just say that these are really high quality questions.” 

And they were:

 “Do you ever get annoyed when people read your draft and tell you to change things?” Sometimes.

“Do you ever base your characters on people you know in real life?” No.

“What do you do when you’re writing a story and you get stuck?” Take a shower, walk my dog or read someone else’s book.

Students all seemed to relate to the idea of getting stuck while writing. But Ms. Broach encouraged them over and over to just keep writing, even sharing examples of books she had “written” at the age of six. “Don’t let worrying about writing the perfect story prevent you from writing anything at all. Just write. I believe everything can be fixed later.”

That message, just write, can be added to the other goals accomplished by the One School, One Book experience. “We did what we set out to do,” said Ms. Summers. “Build community and encourage family literacy. And have fun in the process.”