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One Book, One Wildcat Family Transforms E. C. West ES

When the 2019-2020 school year rolled around, Evoline C. West Elementary principal Jennifer Burton had an idea that transformed her school's culture. She brought One Book, One Wildcat Family, to the families at West and made it a daily priority. This literacy program involved all families in the school, grades K-5, reading one book at home and at school.

Burton selected "Because of Winn Dixie", a children's novel by Kate DiCamillo, as the book for the entire student body to read. "This book is about friendship and overcoming hardships," Burton said. "It's about the community coming together and celebrating diversity. Those are all themes that are important to our school."

One Book, One Wildcat Family helped the West students and staff connect. Burton gave teachers and parents a reading guide that outlined activities and discussion questions that families and classes could have together. The questions were not graded; they were to encourage discussion.

Principal Burton introduced families to the project in several ways. "I talked to parents about the reading initiative at curriculum night and I read two chapters of the book at our Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meeting," Burton said. "I also called parents weekly with the Tuesday Talk and included information about the initiative."

Tunisha & Jimmie Thorne Tunisha Thorne, School Governance Council (SGC) representative for West, loves the program. Her seven year-old son, Jimmie, a first-grader at West, has excelled in the project's focus on literacy. "There was a lesson plan to follow and we read chapters of the book at PTA meeting," Thorne said.

Jimmie quickly adapted to the book. "Because of Winn Dixie is a chapter book with no pictures," Thorne said. "Jimmie had never read a chapter book before. Now that's all he wants to do. This project has given him a passion for reading. He has a better vocabulary and he's done better on testing."

Thorne has also introduced her son to the movie version of the story. Jimmie was quick to point out that the book was not exactly like the movie.

The One Book, One Wildcat Family experience has inspired Jimmie to read other books. He is particularly fond of books by Dav Pilkey, author of The Captain Underpants series and he's reading books to his younger sister.

Key to the One Book One Wildcat Family process is the fact that students, parents and teachers are all reading one book daily, and they are reading aloud. Thorne cautions parents to refrain from setting limits on what their children can do. "Before this program, I only shared books with pictures with my children," she said. "Now we are checking chapter books out of the library. Children can do so much more than we think," she said.

Principal Burton agrees. "This was successful because families were engaged in learning and discovering together," Burton said. "And it was fun! As a child was reading, the parent was too. E. C. West's normalized excellence is when families are excited about reading and learning together."