Twelfth Graders Pass Down Love of Reading

Twelfth Graders Pass Down Love of Reading
Posted on 05/30/2023

Five 12th grade students in the Madison-Oneida BOCES Tri Academy are inspiring younger students, while building leadership and communication skills in the classroom setting. It all happens through a new partnership between teachers Laura Wickman and Chelsea Bourgeois that has connected twelfth grade students with students in grades 3-5.
Each Thursday afternoon, students in Bourgeois’ class gather in an on-campus space called The Wormhole, named for its aura as a relaxed and calm space on campus where students can read and enjoy quiet activities. They meet with Wickman and one of her twelfth grade English students for a group reading, and a themed activity that pairs up with the chosen book’s topic.
During the weekly sessions, each senior’s interests and creativity are given the spotlight. They select books that fit their interests, and develop activities that help their peers experience those interests.
“It’s fun reading to them and helping them find out how they want to do the activity,” senior Hunter Westcott said.
On the afternoon of May 18th, Westcott read from How I Became a Pirate, by Melinda Long, before guiding students on a treasure hunt around the building. Previous activities in the program have encompassed a wide range of creative ideas including craft projects, puppetry, and growing potatoes in the classroom.

For each senior, their sense of ownership can be felt in every aspect of the program including the venue it’s held in. The class played an integral part in the creation of The Wormhole by painting walls, alphabetizing hundreds of books, building shelves and selecting furniture to fit their vision.
Add in a healthy dose of peer mentorship with this reading initiative, and it all comes together to create opportunities for students to demonstrate their potential.

“The seniors in this group have a lot of gifts and a lot of talent,” Wickman said. “They get to use this space that they have helped to create while promoting reading skills and a love of reading in our younger students. They also are growing and boosting their own reading skills in the process.”

Bourgeois says her students have reaped the rewards of having a relationship with positive role models who were once in their shoes. The younger students have had a chance to follow the example set by the seniors through a separate partnership where her students read to therapy dogs. 

“It’s been really beneficial,” Bourgeois said. “It’s been nice for them to listen to the high schoolers read and do a little craft project after. And then they get to go read to therapy dogs that come in about once a month. My students get to read to the dogs, and the high schoolers get to read to my students. It’s like a chain reaction. There has been more engagement in the stories and they get to see these older students in a different light.”

In the short term, the program hopes to expand to multiple classrooms and grade levels next year. In the long term, Wickman expressed a hope that someday, the younger students of today will get the chance to pay the favor forward as seniors.