What if? These two simple words are words that can send the mind into overdrive, speculating about the future or pondering the past.
Several teachers at Maryville High School asked the question, “What if the students who are taking Freshman English all read the same book?”
The result of their question was the development of the One Book/One Grade program that was modeled after the American Library Association’s One Book/One Community initiative developed in 1998 by Seattle librarian, Nancy Pearl. Pearl’s goal was to connect people with literature through reading and discussion.
According to Maryville High School English teacher Kathleen Reiss, the One Book/One Grade project’s goal was to focus not only on academics, but also on building relationships, teamwork, community spirit and interdisciplinary study.
“With the project we’re trying to touch on a lot of different disciplines, like literature, science, geography, art and character building,” Reiss said.
Reiss said the award winning book “The House of the Scorpion” by Nancy Farmer was selected because the novel provided a lot of opportunities for discussion. She said the main character in “The House of the Scorpion” is 14-year-old Matt, who faces issues that many students can relate to. Reiss said the science fiction novel is a book that even reluctant ninth grade readers can get hooked on.
One Book/One Grade also became an integral part of the Senior Inquiry course, which is a class designed for students who wish to design a portfolio of accomplishments for college admission requirements. The students in the Inquiry class decided that the planning of the One Book/One Grade culminating event was going to be their activity for the term.
MHS senior Victor Smith said the Inquiry class members read the book to determine appropriate activities for the culmination event of One Book/One Grade. The program they planned featured a presentation by University of Tennessee professor Dr. Glenn C. Graber. Graber, a professor of philosophy and of medicine, lectures on biomedical ethics and tailored his presentation to incorporate the book’s medical and ethical issues.
Another presentation highlighted the importance of resilience, which is also a theme of the book. The speaker was Carly Pearson Waugh, a MHS 1994 graduate who majored in forestry and became a wildfire firefighter.
When she worked in the Great Smoky Mountains, she was dispatched to Oregon to fight a wildfire where she fell down an embankment. Her neck was broken, and she is now paralyzed from the waist down.
To keep the freshman students engaged in the culmination event, they were divided into small groups of 12 to 14.
Senior Inquiry students were group leaders who led their team to various activities.
Activities included poetry reading by students who were inspired by the book, mural painting inspired by the book’s themes and a relay obstacle course based upon the sequence of events in the book.
MHS senior Rachel McCroskey said the event planning was a way for students to get to know one another by working together to plan a big event.
“This helped with leadership and organizational skills,” said MHS senior Victor Smith. “You have to look at every angle to make everything come together.”
One Book/One Grade was funded by a grant from the Maryville City Schools foundation. The grant paid for books for the students and for the expense of the culminating event.
“Yet again, it shows how much creativity, energy and idealism that students showed to put together this event,” said MHS Senior Inquiry teacher Cynthia Freeman.