Every Thursday at 7:30 a.m., six students gather in Melissa Wicks’ Language Arts classroom at Akimel A-al Middle School.
The early birds are there to talk books for one hour before school begins.
The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students are enrolled in the Kyrene School District’s Battle of the Books, a 10-week program sponsored by the Community Education Department that encourages reading and then pits middle school teams against one another in a final Battle of the Books (BOB) competition scheduled for April 11.
Five of the six Kyrene Middle Schools are competing. The program requires a minimum enrollment of 12, and a $116 fee, though scholarships were available, according to Kyrene Community Education program coordinator Marisa Dickerson. Ten books are assigned for reading.
But besides creating a multi-school reading club of sorts, BOB also prompts a competition that over time has become rich interscholastic rivalry.
“It’s kind of like ‘Jeopardy’ meets your spelling bee,” chuckled teacher Amy Furman, who coaches her 17-member group at Kyrene Aprende Middle School.
BOB is a nationwide program that began in the 1930s as a radio quiz show on a Chicago radio station, and is now a reading incentive program for elementary, middle and high schools.
The books are selected by Battle of the Books. There are two organizations with the same name. Kyrene uses BattleoftheBooks.com, owned by Christine House, a former librarian and educator with 30 years of experience, and one of the company’s creators.
The 10 books are pre-selected by the company, and this year’s middle school list includes both fiction and nonfiction such as “No Summit Out of Sight: the True Story of the Youngest Person to Climb the Seven Summits” by Jordan Romero with Linda LeBlanc; and “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle” by Avi.
“Really, it’s a way to promote reading, and to have it competitive as well is hilarious,” said Furman, who has taught 23 years, the last 18 at Kyrene. “It’s a way to have kids who love reading get together with other kids who are also super-excited about it.”
Besides reading the books, the students work on sample competition questions. All questions begin with “In which book,” and students must answer with book title and author.
The history of BOB in the Kyrene School District is a rich one, and one that almost ended with state funding cuts three years ago.
Kyrene del Pueblo teacher Kate Munn, one of the originators of Battle of the Books in Kyrene middle schools recalled its near demise – and the continuing popularity among middle school bookworms.
“In 2012, when I was a librarian at Pueblo Middle School, I joined a group of middle school librarians who ran the competition – Jennifer Leopardi of Kyrene Middle School, Rhonda Brewer of Akimel A-al, Jacque Moorefield of Centennial and Linda Todd, at that time her CMS technician. We each led a group at our schools, and took turns hosting and running the Final Battle,” said Munn, who is in her fourth year as a coach.
“In 2015, cuts in state funding meant that the middle school libraries would be run by technicians instead of librarians. Middle school librarians moved into other certified teaching or elementary librarian positions,” said Munn, who now teaches seventh-grade social studies.
“I was concerned because the Battle of the Books program in Kyrene Middle Schools looked like it was going to end, and I knew how much it meant to our middle school readers. So, I made a proposal to Community Education with the help of Kelly Alexander, my principal at Pueblo, that we continue the program through Kyrene Community Education.”
And that is what saved BOB.
Community Education head Teresa Rodriquez helped initiate the Battle of the Books under her department’s auspices, with Marisa Dickerson now facilitating the popular competition.
BOB coaches say their club is made up of students who enjoy reading, and others who are more into the competition.
As the “Final Battle” looms, five students and one alternate will be selected to make up each school team.
“The entire group attends the Final Battle to support the team, even if they’re not one of the five, said Munn, adding:
“They all dress in our BOB shirts, and the battles have a great audience turnout, with family and friends cheering on each school’s team.”
For sixth-grade student Makayla Bogart-Getner, the BOB group has increased her school social circle.
“Battle of the books isn’t like an ordinary book club, it’s a place where I don’t feel alone. I’m basically what you would call a picture-perfect, non-social nerd, and it gives me a chance to talk eye-to-eye with some of the kids that I never would I have imagined hanging out with,” she said.
The one exception to the minimum enrollment caveat is the club headed by Melissa Wicks at Akimel A-al.
This in her first year at the Ahwatukee middle school, having transferred from Centennial Middle School, where she led her team to last year’s Battle of the Books championship.
Wicks said, “Community Education allowed me to still work with a small group after I spoke to them about needing a year to get the program off the ground. Last year, Akimel A-al was not a participant in the battle. Since we’ve been up and running, there’s been a lot of (student) interest in joining, but those students will have to wait until next year.”
One student who was in the tie-breaker with Centennial last year is Kira Caspers, an eighth-grader at Aprende, coached by Furman.
“Last year our team went into the tie-breaker with Centennial. It was stressful, but still fun,” said Caspers, 13, who is representing her school for the third year. “I think our chances are pretty good for the Final Battle; everybody’s really enthusiastic about it this year.”
The Final Battle contest questions are a well-kept secret, ensconced in three sealed envelopes, each containing 20 questions and five tie-breaker questions.
In answer to the questions that always begin with ‘In which book is,” the team members confer before the team captain hoists the binder with that book title.
If judges rule against their answer, students have a short time period in which to find the exact spot in the book that provides proof their answer was correct.
Teachers Tara Camarano of Alta Dena Middle School and Nicole Schutkowsik at Centennial Middle School are also coaching their respective Battle of the Books teams.
The 2018 Battle of the Books final is scheduled for April 11 at 6 p.m. at the Kyrene Schools District Office.
Read full story at http://www.ahwatukee.com/community_focus/article_b7160614-32d3-11e8-9710-23365bf9ed2a.html