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National Reading Month at Detroit Merit Goes Global

National Reading Month at Detroit Merit Charter Academy (DMA) was filled with cultural exposure and heartfelt book donations. The nationally recognized month is designated as a time to motivate Americans of all ages to read every day.
 
To expand the reach of reading month, Meg Atwood, a kindergarten and first-grade teacher at DMA, had mystery guest readers throughout the month. She hosted “Reading Around the World” and had a total of 21 readers who came from 12 states and eight countries across seven continents.
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Leslie from Taiwan read “The Watermelon Seed”. Nichole from Iceland read “The Story of Gypa”. John from Antarctica read a book about Antarctica. Rosemary from Australia read “Wombat Stew”. Sam from South Africa read “The Ugly Four”. Lucia from Uruguay read “Peppa Pig” in Spanish and translated. Those are only a few of the readers that participated.
 
“After the reading the students would color in the state or country on their map,” said Atwood. “It was fun tying geography in with reading month and instead of teaching them about each continent or different places, they could really learn about them from someone who lives there.”
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Atwood has a love for travel and different cultures, as she played field hockey in college with international players, did her student teaching in Australia, and completed graduate work in South Korea. For Atwood, it’s important for children to know there is more in this world then what they see every day and she wanted to bring that to them.
 

“The students loved learning about the different time zones, native animals, food, climates, landscape, and languages,” said Atwood. “They heard people speak in Icelandic, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Australian, and Afrikaans. I asked each student which place was their favorite and why.”
 
Below are a handful of student responses:
 
"I like that there are beaches in Iceland with black sand.” – Kennan.
"I liked learning about wax apples and different fruit in Taiwan.” – Eleeyah.
"I want to see the lions and elephants in South Africa.” – Kylie.
"I liked learning about Antarctica and want to be a scientist so I can go there.” – Seth.
"I liked learning about Australia and Ireland because they drive on the other side of the car.” – Braylon.
 

This has been Atwood’s favorite reading month yet. “If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it's that it is really easy to connect with people from all over the world with the click of a ‘join’ button on Google Meet,” she said.
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The reach of reading month at DMA was global, but also local. A total of 210 books, varying in grade level, were donated to DMA that focus on diversity, Black authors, and Moral Focus, to name a few. Kali Thorpe, seventh- and eighth-grade English language arts (ELA) teacher at DMA, partnered with Ferndale community members during National Reading Month through a book donation to build a robust library in the classroom for students to enjoy. Considering the impacts of COVID-19 the Ferndale community and the Boston Tea Room, local bookstore, donated five boxes of books and provided a check to contribute toward the purchase of a bookshelf.
 
Authentic representation and diversity are vital in literature for Thorpe. “I am a firm believer in the idea that reading cultivates empathy. What we call ‘window’ books let us explore new cultures, perspectives, identities, and more,” said Thorpe. “By doing this exploration, we learn about the way other people live, think, and experience the world. That is how empathy grows.”
 

What made Thorpe most emotional was seeing the representation of fat characters. “As someone who identifies as a fat woman and was a fat child growing up, I bawled seeing books that included fat characters existing and being happy in their bodies,” said Thorpe. “I want to make students feel good about themselves and to open them up to new experiences, so they learn about how special it is to be different and to lean into celebrating diversity instead of ostracizing it.”
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For Sandra Terry-Martin, principal at DMA, reading is everything! “When our students can read well, it opens doors for them,” said Terry-Martin. “It is important for us to make reading as fun as possible, so students develop a love for reading. I think what I love most about reading month is being a mystery reader to classrooms and seeing how excited the students get listening to the stories. This tells me we are doing our job inspiring students with a love of reading.”