By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
HANNIBAL Mo. -- Stowell Elementary School Principal Josh Foust hopes the One Book, One School program will bring together the school community like it has in his hometown of Sullivan, Ill.
Foust has participated in his hometown's program for several years. One Book, One School is sponsored by the national nonprofit Read to Them and encourages community involvement in literacy. The program provides children's novels at a discounted rate to schools nationwide. In turn, schools distribute the books to families throughout the community.
Schools can choose from a variety of titles, such as "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," by C.S. Lewis; "The Mouse and the Motorcycle," by Beverly Cleary; and "Charlotte's Web," by E.B. White.
Stowell chose "Because of Winn-Dixie," by Kate DiCamillo, for the inaugural year of the program.
The program is designed to improve listening comprehension, increase vocabulary, lengthen attention spans, and foster a positive attitude toward books and reading. Clay Hayden, physical education instructor and a member of the parent involvement committee at Stowell, said the school distributed 200 books to families. The books came with an at-home reading schedule so parents could keep pace with students.
"The more the parents are involved, the success of the students increases," Hayden said.
The communitywide read-along had its kickoff at Stowell's annual chili supper in October. Foust hoped that incorporating a new program into a rich tradition would ignite local interest. While many parents embraced the program, Foust said, grandparents also used "Because of Winn-Dixie" as a way to connect with their grandchildren.
"The grandparents, I've noticed, are really a driving force," he said. "They have a lot more time than the working parents."
Before selecting "Because of Winn-Dixie," Foust and the committee searched for a novel that supported both the school and the community culture. The story follows 10-year-old India Opal Buloni and her dog, Winn-Dixie. Throughout the story, DiCamillo addresses serious themes such as unusual friendships and bullying, but also provides an engaging, humorous plot.
"We were trying to get a book that could create conversation," Foust said.
During a community read-aloud night, parents and grandparents packed the school, Foust said. Title I teacher Lorinda Mixer decorated a room to look like the back porch of a character's house.
"We had a lot of parents that were super-involved and really seemed to enjoy it," Mixer said.
Foust went to the event dressed as Winn-Dixie.
"It's really caused a lot of us to have fun outside of the curriculum," he said.
The school celebrated completion of the program by viewing the movie based on the book. Foust plans to continue the program next year.
"It's just joyful to see all of us involved," he said. "When they say ‘One Book, One School,' it really is one school."