Recognizing that reading good books can sometimes inspire great aspirations, 20 University of Mississippi freshmen recently helped provide copies of their favorite volumes to underprivileged middle school students in the Mississippi Delta.
As a service learning project, UM students in the FASTrack program compiled a small classroom library for Lynzie Biggs, a first-year Teach for America teacher at Mileston Middle School in the Holmes County School District. They each chose a book that was influential for them in middle school, secured a donor to buy copies of the books and then wrote book plate-sized trailers to be placed inside each book so that the middle school students would know why the book was chosen.
“I thought it might be interesting if my FASTrack students would choose the book that had the most impact on them in their middle school years and write a book plate for the inside front cover of the book to explain to the middle school students why the book was so influential,” said Karen Forgette, core instructor in UM’s Center for Writing and Rhetoric. “During the winter break, an anonymous donor agreed to fund the purchase of the books.”
Last spring, Forgette’s Writing 102 students composed and designed the book plates. The plates were affixed to the inside covers of the books, and the books were sent to Biggs for use in her classes this fall.
“I cannot thank you enough for these,” Biggs wrote in an email to Forgette. “This is exactly the type of thing my kids need in order to see reading as a cool thing to do. I hope your students enjoyed the assignment as much as my kids will enjoy reading the books and the reviews. I can’t wait to share them with my group next year.”
In their trailers, the FASTrack participants shared why they selected certain books to share with the middle schoolers.
“The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket is one of my favorite and most treasured series of books,” wrote Tysheann Grant, 19, of Grenada. “The books were so exciting and adventure-filled that I could not help but stay up all night and read them. In addition, these books were my comfort zone during middle school because I was going through a tough transition, and they gave me something hold on to and look forward to.”
Jordan Keplinger, a hospitality management major from Memphis, said S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders resonated with her adolescent period and hopes it will with others who read it.
“Middle school was an interesting and odd time in our lives, and it was nice to have a story that made it seem as if we weren’t the only kids going through the odd adolescent stage,” Keplinger said. “While the book may have been written about a period in time that was years before most of our parents were born, we could still relate to each one of the boys with their struggles to find themselves and grow up.”
Though Schuyler Floyd admits not caring much for reading as a child, he said he changed after discovering the Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne and Sal Murdocca.
“I was never a student who liked to sit in a classroom and learn a lot of material, so I looked forward to sitting down and reading one of these books to feel that I was escaping from the classroom,” the Nashville accounting major said. “These books taught me that I can do anything that I want to do. It was like living in a fantasy world that seemed completely real. I got to use my imagination and dream about anything I wanted to, no matter how impossible doing that would actually be. I was invincible.”
Both Forgette and Biggs hope to maintain and expand the ties between the FASTrack students and Mileston Middle School.
“Lynzie and I have talked about establishing a relationship in which our students might share their writing and reading experiences with each other,” Forgette said. “Several of my students mentioned the book plate project in their end-of-semester evaluations, commenting on how motivating the public audience was to their writing and how much fun it was to think back on the books that had been influential to them.”
Biggs is equally enthusiastic about the prospect of future collaborations.
“I would love to work with you (Forgette) again, and I should have more time on my hands as it will be my second year,” Biggs wrote. “Thanks again to you and please pass on my gratitude to your students!”
An administrator in UM’s College of Liberal Arts has taken note of Forgette’s work and praises her for the achievement.
“Karen Forgette and our other great FASTrack instructors push our students to learn, to enjoy learning and to make a difference in the world,” said Stephen Monroe, assistant dean of the College. “This innovative assignment raises motivation and meets a real community need. We are very pleased with the results.”
FASTrack is a learning community program for first-year students. Students are divided into groups, called cohorts, of 20 students or less. In those cohorts, students take three classes together during the fall semester and three more during the spring, building a sense of community and peer support. Students in FASTrack get to know each other quickly and often study together.
Instructors track and report individual student progress so that struggling students can be identified and assistance can be offered. Extra academic support, enhanced advising and intensive mentoring are available to all FASTrack students.