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Young Adult Literature explodes with new project

This shelf holds the books Powers retained in her classroom for the Young Adults Choices Project. She sent 50 books to each of the other 16 teachers in the district who are participating in the project.1 / 2
Kim Powers, a teacher in the Hudson district for 11 years, heads up the Young Adults Choices Project for the district. Photos by Margaret A. Ontl2 / 2

Enthusiasm is not an strong enough word to describe Kim Powers' attitude toward reading.

Powers, who has taught at Hudson High School for 11 of her 14 years in the profession, had to respond when she heard students bragging about graduating from high school without reading a book.

The New Richmond native, who graduated from UW-River Falls after attending UW-La Crosse, went on to complete her master's degree in teaching and learning at St. Mary's University.

Reading was a huge part of her childhood and remains a passion for her.

"I was a really big reader," said Powers, "Growing up in New Richmond the bookstore was in an old house. It was so much fun to go there and explore." Checking books out at the library was another highlight of Powers' childhood.

"I loved science as a kid but I always loved books as they were a part of my world," said Powers. So it wasn't a hard decision about what to teach as she explored her options in college. It is her love of books that spurred her on to earn a Book Arts Certificate from Hamline University.

As her career path developed, she noticed a disturbing trend -- students just were not reading.

"English teachers tend to want to their students to read what we want them to read," said Powers. "As a teacher it was shocking to hear students bragging about not reading a single book in their four years of high school."

"We needed to do something to combat that attitude," said Powers. With the support of former Principal Ed Lucas, Powers, with fellow teachers Laura Paulisich and Susie Anderson, created a course and proposed it to the curriculum council. The result was an elective class, Young Adult Literature, which has been taught at HHS for eight years. It is offered to sophomores.

"The idea is to catch people when they are younger," said Powers.

"We found supporting data that if you give kids good books about issues in contemporary life they will read them. So we created a class based on choice," said Powers. "I like the classic literature. There is value to having that in the curriculum but you lose out on an educational opportunity if they don't want to read."

"We created a class to get kids to enjoy reading," said Powers. "One of the first things I have my students do is write a reading autobiography. I try to gauge their attitude towards reading."

"Generally when you are in elementary school reading is fun. Somewhere in middle school that enthusiasm fades away," said Powers.

The class has been popular with students and Powers admits some concern since the class will no longer be offered next year.

"We have seen such great success," said Powers. "It doesn't take long to make a change. Give the kids a little bit of freedom and that changes their attitude, most of them read and do more than I require them to do."

Powers' students come back to her classroom which is filled with hundreds of Young Adult titles and to check out new books long after they are done taking her class.

"It is a testament that once you hook them they will come back," said Powers. "I want kids to be lifelong readers. It has a huge impact on our society."

The project

This year Powers was one of six teachers nationwide chosen to participate in the Young Adults' Choices project.

For Powers it is the first year of the three-year program which has been an annual project of the International Reading Assoc-iation since 1987.

Every year students in grades 7 to 12 from across the United States participate in selecting 30 titles from new books donated by North American publishers.

Students read the books and vote one of three ways: They loved the book, liked the book or did not like the book.

"Each book has to be read by two different students," said Powers. The ballots are sent in from each school. From there the top 30 books are named on the best book list by the International Reading Association, a coveted place for a publisher to have a title listed.

By participating this year Powers received 1,260 books free; two copies each of 630 titles, which she labeled, covered and divided up, based on age appropriateness, between the schools (high school and middle school). When the books arrived in September, Powers, together with 16 other teachers at the middle and high schools, offered the books to their students.

Kristin Conrad, who is a reading specialist for the district, is helping Powers run the program at the middle school level.

Teachers participating at the middle school are Clinton St. John, Toni Bendlin, Amy Thurston, Kristin Hanna, Michelle Miller, Kristine Bjerk, Teresa Cameron, Julie Kohl and Kathryn Zielski.

Teachers joining Powers at the high school are Susie Anderson, Nikki Benson, Laura Paulisich, Steven Kennedy, Sheila Fulop, Kim Behnke and Laura Johnson.

The project gives students a chance to voice their opinions about books written for them.

The books are fiction, non-fiction, how-to manuals, graphic (written in frames similar to comic books) novels and even reference material.

"There is something for everyone," said Powers. "I could never stock my classroom with this many titles. It has been a blessing."

Time is closing in on the deadline for completing the reading and balloting. On Feb. 15 Powers has to send in the results to the International Reading Association.

The Young Adults' Choices Project is really just a continuation of Powers' passion for reading and for her students.

"I am completely hooked on Young Adult Literature," said Powers, who has read every one of the hundreds of titles she maintains for her class. "It is such a joy and honor to do this for them and it keeps me connected to them." Powers will continue to coordinate the project for another two years.

Students: There is still time to participate in YAC

Students: There are still books to be read for the Young Adults Choices project. If you want to help, see Kim Powers in Room 521 at Hudson High School for any of the teachers listed in the following story. By participating you help to determine the best 30 young adult books of the year. The deadline for completion is Feb. 15. There are still many books out of the 630 titles donated by publishers that need to be read and voted on.

Young Adult Literature reading list

This is a small list of books that are some of Powers' favorite Young Adult literature titles. She feels adults would enjoy any of the following.

  • "Last Night I Sang to the Monster"
  • "After"
  • "I Now Pronounce You Someone Else"
  • "Liar"
  • "Jumping Off Swings"
  • "Tales of the Madman Underground"
  • "Wintergirls"
  • "Will Grayson, Will Grayson"
  • "Revolution"
  • "Halo"
  • "Bruiser"
  • "The Things a Brother Knows"
  • "Dirty Little Secrets"
  • "Empty"

    A tip for parents by reading Young Adult Literature: You may learn more about the world your teenagers live in each day.

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