By Beth Orsini, 7th Grade ELA Teacher, Melican Middle School
The challenge in finding an All School, One Read selection for middle school is that it must resonate with students from grades six to eight, as well as with adults. The book must have compelling characters, those whom students will want to read about in the hot summer months and will still want to talk about when they get back to school in September. Melican Middle School in Northborough, MA was lucky enough to find all that with Rob Buyea’s novel about the pressures of standardized testing, The Perfect Score. Further, we were lucky enough to culminate our All School, One Read experience with a visit from Mr. Buyea on September 21.
This year, with the help of the PTO and a grant from the Northborough Cultural Council, as well as with a group discount from Penguin Random House, many students and staff were able to order the book before the end of last school year. Leaving school in June with a beautiful new hardcover copy of The Perfect Score set many kids up for success with their summer reading. Although they were asked to complete a written assignment while reading in the summer, the real fun came when school started back up in September.
Upon returning to school, the staff got busy coming up with ways to connect The Perfect Score all across the curriculum. First, we decided on our theme for the school year– “Forget the mistake; remember the lesson”–based on the book’s theme of doing the wrong thing for the right reason. Then, the day before the author visit, students took part in activities that connected in some way to the themes of the text in every one of their classes. Some ELA classes read an article and discussed test anxiety and how to handle it, others worked closely with the text, finding evidence of each character’s motivation to make their ultimate decisions, while still others focused on the themes. Social Studies classes took part in discussions about the morality of doing the wrong thing for the right reason. Math students explored the “King Arthur problem” that is used in the book. Foreign language students practiced mindfulness and meditation techniques. Even Tech Ed. classes touched upon learning disabilities, a subject stemming from the character Gavin’s reading struggles and the teacher’s personal experience with dyslexia. It was a day full of meaningful connections to a text that we had all committed to read as a community, and the energy was palpable. Having teachers across the curriculum “buy in” to a community read sends a powerful message that literature transcends any particular subject in school.
This message was underscored with Rob Buyea’s visit. His engaging presentation not only gave us insight into how he creates characters, but into who he is as a person and how he became a writer. He is a father, a husband, a teacher, an athlete, a competitor, a math guy, and, above all, a reader. By far a favorite part of the presentation for many students was when he shared books by other authors that he loves. His excitement was contagious. He left us with concrete examples and advice about overcoming obstacles and about how his experience as a wrestler prepared him for being a successful author. This impacted students who may not think of themselves as writers because it connected to who they are right now. Students weren’t the only ones affected by the powerful speech, however. In fact, one math teacher left the assembly saying, “It was great! I’m so inspired to go write a book now!” Goals that may have seemed unattainable before suddenly seemed within reach for many of us, and that is the best way to begin any school year.
Read THE PERFECT SCORE and THE PERFECT SECRET with your students using this Educators’ Guide to facilitate your lessons and discussions!