Duval Middle School Authors Promote Literacy To Younger Peers

May 16, 2017

At a time when literacy is one of the greatest challenges in Duval County public schools, middle schoolers are creating their own literature to share with younger students.

Kirby Smith eighth graders wrote their own books and read them to elementary school kids Tuesday morning.

Keena Small's book is about a girl with the skin condition vitiligo.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

The students’ Creative Writing teacher Kifimbo Parnell said the months-long project started as a simple homework assignment.

“When I saw how the kids went above and beyond the call of duty, I said this cannot just remain a classroom secret,” she said about her student’s writing children’s books . “It needs to be shared.”

Some of their books are computer illustrated, others include hand-drawn pictures, and they’re all different lengths and sizes. But all the books contain a message, whether it’s “be yourself,” or provide comfort for kids of divorced parents.

The students named their group “Rising Readers,” chanting the slogan “Rising to the top, so reading never stops,” before heading to the bus departing for John Love Elementary, where they read their books.

At the school, 13-year-old Keena Small shared her book , “The Appearance of Beauty,” with a class of second graders. She wrote her book about a girl with the skin condition vitiligo, which causes pigment-producing cells to stop working.

“It’s about a girl who has white blotches on her skin and she’s learning to accept herself for who she is,” Keena said.

As Keena Small read her book, John Love students followed along with their own copies.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

The middle schoolers had to make a lesson plan. Keena showed students pictures of famous people who have the condition, including model Winnie Harlow, who has embraced it.

After the story, she asked: “What’s the main idea?” and “What’s the setting?”

The kids began twisting in their seats with arms raised and finger tips wiggling to be picked. One of them was 8-year-old Amira Lemon, who said she has family members with the condition.

“I thought that was not nice to be rude to people and pick on people,” she said.

The book teaches a life lesson, but Keena also really wants the kids to learn the importance of reading. She  volunteers with kids at her former elementary school.

Keena Small shared her book , “The Appearance of Beauty,” to a class of second graders.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

“Most of the kids I talk to about reading don’t really read like they should,” she said. “If they read they’ll know more and have better goals and futures.”

But it looks like little Amira is already a lover of books. She was clinging tight to a used book she won as a prize for answering one of Keena’s questions, just in time for summer break.

“I like to read books that are not too easy or not too hard, that are just right for me,” Amira said.

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Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.