New Lugoff-Elgin High School Principal Worth Thomasson wants students to understand that what they learn in the classroom can be applied to life outside the classroom. Thomasson, who moved from being principal at North Central High School in August, hopes to make that connection through promoting literacy this school year.
“I think that if you can engage students in a way that they realize the content is real, relevant and engaging, then they will want to learn. One of the ways I’ve learned over the years to do that is to incorporate literacy into the content area,” Thomasson said.
While teaching an environmental science class for seniors, Thomasson noticed some of his students had not passed the ELA section of their exit exams. So, he decided to incorporate reading a book about the rainforest into his lessons
“I was blown away with how much science I could teach while teaching them the literacy part of the book,” Thomasson said.
Through reading the book, he was also able to show his students how what they were learning could be applied to actual issues.
“When I talk about wanting kids to be engaged and the learning to be relevant, I found literacy is a way to get that accomplished. So when I got here one of the things I talked to the faculty about is developing a reading plan we can incorporate across the curriculum. I just wanted them to try it,” Thomasson said.
When Thomasson explained this to L-EHS faculty, Spanish I teacher Gay Howard said she was instantly on board with the idea. Howard describes herself as being an avid reader and was excited about sharing reading with her students.
“I’ve been fortunate to get to go to a lot of places and experience a lot of things. I’ve also experienced a lot of things through books that I couldn’t experience in person. I loved the idea of sharing that with my students through books. When he proposed that as an initiative at our school … I got real excited.” Howard said.
Howard said she started researching books she could incorporate into her lessons.
She came across The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango. The book is based on Farinango’s life as the story of an indigenous Ecuadorian woman, “Virginia,” who became a servant to a Mestizo couple.
“I found this book that was so relevant. On a personal note, this book really hit home with me on several different levels. My first thought was about Ecuador. There are a lot of themes in the book that are very relevant for teenagers today,” Howard said.
Howard has been in contact with Resau and plans to take a group of students to Ecuador. She hopes to meet with Farinango, too.
“It’s two great ideas coming together. The students will read the book, gain all the insight into the culture, the language and about the young lady,” Thomasson said. “Then (Howard) will take them to Ecuador and they will hopefully get to meet to her. To me that summarizes everything learning should be.”
Howard also hopes her students will learn about the issues of human trafficking and ethnicity through reading the book.
“It brings up a lot of issues that I think students can relate to. (Virginia) goes through an identity crisis where she is not really sure if she is indigenous or a Mestizo -- the Spanish blood in Ecuador. There are a lot of themes in the book that I think we can explore that my students might deal with and I think they can explore ways to be involved in these issues that are happening in their world that they don’t necessarily even know about … I’m hoping to find lots of ways to share things about this book with them that they can connect with in a personal way.” Howard said.
Thomasson hopes other teachers will also be able to find books to incorporate with their teaching. He is also encouraging reading outside of the classroom during the school day.
“Our free time is reading time. If a kid doesn’t have anything to do, we want them to have a book available,” he said.
Thomasson, Howard and L-EHS School Librarian Anne Lemieux believe an important part of this is to help students find books to read that interest them.
Lemieux started the Our Reading Life @ LEHS blog to get students and teachers to review books others might be interested in reading.
“That’s just a way to promote books; I have several teachers signed up and a couple of students. We want them to explain why they like the book and why other people might want to read the book. I love helping people learn to read for pleasure,” Lemieux said.
Though it is in the early stages of development, the end goal of the program is to increase literacy at L-EHS.
“I am hoping that this literary strategy will impact all students at all different levels. If we want our kids to be prepared we are going to have to focus more on those literary skills, probably from more than in the past,” Thomasson said.