Once a day, for 20 minutes at the end of first period, the Joseph High School building becomes absolutely silent. There is no talking by either students or teachers, no walking around, and the whole school becomes immersed in a single pasttime - reading.
"Kids in high school are so busy I think that kids forgot how much fun it is," said high and middle school librarian Shannon Mislach about the school's new mandatory reading period. "We're running out of books."
All of a sudden books are a hot topic in Joseph schools. Students are talking about the books they read, trading books, putting their names on waiting lists in the school library. "You'll see kids reading in the halls now before class begins," said one teacher. "It's great."
The 20-minute reading period was instituted at the beginning of the school year by second-year Joseph School District superintendent Rich Graham. He said it has been instituted in different schools around the country, including his last school district, Grand Coulee, Wash., where he saw test scores start increasing after once-a-day required reading was started. It also supplements and reinforces a very successful reading instruction program that was started three years in the elementary school, which has already seen reading success and scores at the beginning levels increase significantly. Graham said the 20 minutes of reading also fits in well with the district's new four-day school week that started this year.
"It's a return to basics," said Graham, who is very pleased with the response he's received from both teachers and students.
The new pleasure reading program sees every student in the district, from kindergarten through high school, reading at the same time. The rule is that the youths must read books, with no newspapers or magazines allowed during the reading times.
According to Mislach, the students are going through the library's stock of current fiction at an amazing rate. While there are many old fiction books in the library that have probably not been checked out for many years, the students look for new covers, recent releases, certain authors.
"They all say, 'I want something good to read," said Mislach, who was described as a "librarian's librarian" by one teacher. Ironically, though the demand for books has never been higher, Mislach's hours were reduced from 32 to 19 hours because of budget cuts this year, and there has been no money in the school budget to buy new library books for at least three years.
A bingo booth at the school carnival raised some money for books last year, and there is currently a book drive underway by Joseph High School. Questionable books are pre-screened.
In the high school readers' world, murder mysteries are big, as is fantasy. One copy of a paperback book by Tolkien is literally falling apart. There is a "wish list" of authors, specific books and subjects on the library office wall, and the librarian saves back certain books for certain kids. She admits that she maintains a book profile, both mental and written, on many students.
Mislach keeps a couple of special shelves with new donations or popular books and authors on top of the card catalogue, occasionally slipping in some older books that the student readers might not otherwise discover.
Any donation of books is very gratefully accepted at Joseph High School these days, and also in the elementary school. Monetary donations from those who want to help the cause of reading may be sent to the Key Club, care of Joseph School District, P.O. Box W, Joseph OR 97846.