SUBMITTED By ROSE GARRETT
SOUTWESTERN COMM. COLLEGE“A new book is like a box of chocolates; you never know that you’re going to get,” said Olivia Stewman, a sixth-grader at Macon Middle School.
Stewman and other sixth-graders in Macon, Jackson and Swain counties and the Qualla Boundary received free books this summer through an initiative called FUNtana Summer Reading Program. Each student hand-picked three books that they wanted and could keep for themselves.
Coordinated by Cindy Thompson, Southwestern Community College GEAR UP readiness coach, the project involved more than 600 students and 2,000 books. It also involved many partners-Southwestern’s GEAR UP program, Fontana Regional Library, Qualla Boundary Public Library, Scholastic Literacy Partners Program and the local school systems.
“Students need to exercise their brains in the summer, too, so we did this as a fun project to nurture the love of learning,” said Thompson.
The first box loads of books arrived in the schools the last week of classes and eager students took their first selections home with them. Students pick up their second and third books at their local public library. Postcards are sent notifying students of the pickup dates and books not picked up by a certain time will be mailed to the students.
Sandra Arneach, a sixth-grader at Smokey Mountain Elementary, likes the program “because you get to pick books you like.” A fan of the comic strip, she selected the book Calvin and Hobbes.
“Our sixth-graders are on all reading levels,” said Thompson. “Plus, their interests are so varied. That’s why we didn’t just select the same books for all the students. They made their own choices.”
Trent Wright, sixth-grader at Swain Middle, loves to read about history and selected a book about the Vietnam War as his first book. Brieana Worley, Scotts Creek sixth-grader, chose The Lightening Thief. Dayini Lossie at Smokey Mountain Elementary enjoys scary stories so she picked The Best Ghost Stories.
“The program isn’t just for avid readers,” said Thompson. “Some students prefer sports, camping, hunting or fishing and were pleasantly surprised to find books on those subjects that they could have just for themselves.”
Ryan Long, sixth-grader at Smokey Mountain Elementary, said he is more likely to go to the library now because of the free books.
“Books are cool; especially when they are free,” said Nichole Rogers, sixth-grader at Macon Middle.
Equally impressed, Jeriah Caplinger, Swain middle student, said, “This program shows that people care about us, giving us free books.”
“One of the ideas behind the project was to help change students’ attitude from, ‘Oh, no, I have to read’ to ‘O, yes, I get to read.’ From what I’m hearing, it’s working,” said Thompson.