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Classroom Libraries Coming to High School

On a humid July morning, with the halls of Eastchester High School largely empty of staff and students alike, English teacher Anna Rainaldi was hard at work in her classroom, unpacking a large cardboard box full of books, and arranging its contents on the shelves in anticipation of students who will fill the desks this fall. 

Rainaldi stocked her shelves with graphic novels, dystopian science fiction tales and reimagined mythological classics in the hopes that they will inspire her students to explore the wonders of literature outside of the tomes included in the school-year curriculum. Those books are part of Eastchester’s classroom library initiative, which promotes independent reading by allowing teachers to fill their classrooms with materials that will be available for students to take home and tackle at their own speed. 

“It’s super-exciting of course, and I love the idea of introducing kids to books that are outside of the curriculum; I think it can really foster a love of reading,” she said. “And if they do enjoy the books we read as part of the curriculum, they now have supplementary books that will be related to the topics we cover in class.”

Classroom libraries, long a staple of the District’s elementary schools, were introduced at Eastchester Middle School in 2019 and will be utilized at the high school level for the first time during the 2022-2023 school year. District k-12 Humanities Supervisor Susan Chester believes that offering students access to different titles can be a useful tool in sparking their passion for literature.

“Typically, if you were in a high school classroom, the books you would find would be sets of the core novels that everyone reads,” explained Chester. ”But our goal has been to put books where the readers are, supporting reading and hopefully getting them interested.” 

According to Chester, classroom libraries are designed to work in partnership with each school library, hopefully serving as a jumping-off point for students and guiding them to seek out other titles the District has to offer. 

“Classroom libraries are, by definition, small,” said Chester. “One hope is that by bringing books to the classrooms, students get ‘hooked’ and seek out other reading material in the building library.” 

Rainaldi used her 9th grade class’s unit on “The Odyssey”, to demonstrate how some of the reading materials she ordered can be related to books included in the curriculum.

“I’ve got graphic novels about ‘The Odyssey’, some books about Greek Mythology like ‘The Song of Achilles’ and ‘Circe’ and I’m hoping that the kids who love 'The Odyssey' in class can pick these up and read them independently,” she said. ”We study the themes and the universal ideas of the book, and I think this could be an exciting way to make the book a little more accessible.”

With a majority of high school English teachers participating in the initiative, each classroom library is unique, with books handpicked by each educator based on a number of factors. Rainaldi said there has been robust discussion between faculty members about the construction of these collections. One ninth grade teacher, Jessica Haag, even created independent reading materials for teachers to use with students. 

And while it will be up to each individual teacher to promote their libraries, Rainaldi said she is already coming up with ways to encourage her students to take advantage of the classroom collection.

“I’ve read all of the books I chose before and I know that they’re high-interest books that are good for high schoolers,” said Rainaldi. “But I also asked colleagues, looked at book lists and did outside research like that.”

“I’m thinking that, as we work on a unit, doing ‘The Odyssey’ or ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ towards the end of that lesson, I’ll tell the class ‘that if they liked this book, we have this classroom library and we have other books related to this same topic,” she added. “And if we’re doing a unit where we are primarily reading something in class, like Shakespeare, I might tell them that this is a good time to pick up a book for independent reading and take it home.”