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Joyce Endee

PES teacher hopes to spread love of reading

Plymouth Elementary School teacher Geneva Sambor (left) passed out books selected by her middle school students on the Plymouth Common last week. Picking up their books were Zealand (center) and Isabell (right), who also took time out of her day to help Sambor with the distribution process. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
August 25, 2021
PLYMOUTH – Geneva Sambor is a teacher at Plymouth Elementary School who wants to take her love for reading outside of the classroom, where she can hopefully inspire her middle school students to begin building their own library at home, not only reading the books they accumulate, but sharing and discussing them with their friends.

Her initiative, Books in Common, began last year when local schools switched to remote learning and not only the school library but also the local public library was closed. Sambor was a Grade 6 English and Language Arts teacher (now a Digital Learning Specialist for Grades K-8 this fall) and feared that with limited access to books, her students would not be able to take part in independent reading while learning from home.

"We start to lose kids to independent reading when they're that age," Sambor explained about her focus group. "All kids love stories, and most really like to read, just not when they have to."

In the summer of 2020, Sambor pitched her idea for helping students build a home library to the elementary school's librarian. With support and encouragement, she then applied for a grant for $1,200 through Donors Choose to help her purchase middle school-level books. Donors to her cause raised that grant money in just nine days.

Once approved, she began to purchase a varied list of titles that would be of interest to her students. From fiction novels, historical fiction, graphic novels and more, her selections were then made available on a Google Form for students to choose from.

"Literature is so unique in that you can see the perspectives of others when reading. We may all be different, but we always have books in common," said Sambor, "so I curated a list of titles for middle school students that were diverse and also promoted the differences in society."

The Top 3 books even had a three-page preview on the Google Form to introduce them to the subject matter.

Last summer's Books in Common program was such a success that Sambor continued it this year. This time she applied for $2,300 for book purchases and once again received her request.

Last week, Sambor set up a table for book distributions on the Plymouth Town Common where middle school students who selected a book this year could drop by to pick it up. There were also additional books ordered for those who did not request one this time, but will be available to them when school opens. Each book also came with a bookmark and a special label designed by Iris, one of Sambor's seventh grade students at PES. The label reminds them, "You'll Always Have Books in Common."

Helping her with the distribution of books was this time around was eighth grade class member Isabell. Isabell said it was the second time she signed up for a free book from Books in Common and she was so grateful for the program that she volunteered to help Sambor pass out books to her PES classmates this summer.

Incoming seventh grade student Zealand stopped by to pick up his selection, "Escape From Aleppo" last week. He said he is interested in historical fiction and the book, about a 12-year-old's journey out of war-torn Syria, sounded interesting. It was also his second year of taking part in Books in Common.

Of the approximately 145 middle school students enrolled at PES Sambor said nearly half took part in the online book selection process but she plans on passing out books to those who were unable to sign up. She also included extra books for any new students coming to the school this year as well.

Through Books in Common, Sambor hopes students will become more motivated in holding discussions about their books and be inspired to visit libraries and other public resources. Most of all, she is very grateful for a community that has stepped up to donate to support a project that will not only help in that endeavor as the students begin to build personal libraries of their own.

Sambor also hopes that Books in Common will become an annual event at PES with older students eventually taking a larger role in the project where they can discover all that goes into fundraising endeavors such as this.

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