In May, teachers from two distant schools turned a small encounter into a literary partnership that they hope will "peak" pupils' interests in reading for years to come.
The Mountain to Mountain partnership is a new endeavor by pupils, reading teachers and media specialists at Mount View Middle School in Howard County and Mount Washington Elementary School in Baltimore.
School-to-school partnerships are nothing new, but area reading specialists call the link between a suburban school and a city school for the purpose of increasing literacy refreshing.
The collaboration was officially launched March 2 - national Read Across America Day, which commemorates the birthday of the acclaimed children's book author, Dr. Seuss.
Teachers and pupils have devised an avalanche of ideas to bring the two schools together.
"For Mount Washington, we're making puzzles, bookmarks, place mats," said Mount View's media specialist Joe Duckworth. "And we'll hopefully get some books donated. Since they've done so much for [literacy programs such as] Read Across America and Books for Kids, we wanted to do something for them."
The schools owe their partnership to the Books for Kids annual book drive, organized by the Baltimore Reads Book Bank to collect thousands of new and used children's books for distribution to low-income families in the Baltimore area.
At last spring's Books for Kids drive, Mount Washington master teacher Julie Lenovitz' goal was to collect one book from each child enrolled at the school, or about 300 books. At the end of the drive, Lenovitz and colleagues counted more than 2,500 books.
"We really exceeded our goal," Lenovitz said.
Meanwhile, 22 miles away, Mount View Middle School's more than 700 pupils collected about 480 books.
Duckworth heard about Mount Washington's success and decided to bridge the gap between Marriottsville and Baltimore to find out how his pupils could make next year's book drive numbers climb as high.
He contacted Lenovitz, and the brainstorming began. What started out as a way to help Mount View turned into something mutually beneficial.
"We visited them in October," Duckworth said, "and in their library, they have some really old books."
The observation surprised Duckworth, who recalls thinking that Mount Washington was a school that often helped others and that Mount View, by raising money and collecting books, could help its city counterpart.
"We're calling the partnership Mountain to Mountain because our schools are reaching out to each other," Lenovitz said. "[Duckworth] said that their school would do something for our elementary-level kids, such as making them place mats and bookmarks and other things to promote literacy."
The children at Mount View also are using the opportunity to focus on reading.
At the book drive's launch March 2, teachers at the middle school conducted reading-related activities, such as a Cat in the Hat reading contest, in which winners received gift certificates to Borders bookstores.
"Everything we do, we'll reinforce reading," Duckworth said.
The Howard County school's book drive for Mount Washington will continue through May, he said. As a culminating activity, parents will be invited to the school to read their favorite books over the building's closed-circuit television system.
"It's a great way to get parents into the building," Duckworth said.
The next step, both teachers said, is to bring the student bodies of the two schools together.
"That's a goal of ours, to get together," Lenovitz said. "We haven't worked out the details on that, but it would be good having the kids actually interact with one another and maybe reading to one another."
Susannah Bergmann, community outreach manager for Baltimore Reads, praised the partnership.
"I love the idea of the cities and counties working together," Bergmann said. "The whole collaboration thing is refreshing."
Lenovitz said she hopes the schools will continue to work together.
"I would like to keep our partnership ongoing," Lenovitz said. "We look forward to getting another perspective from middle school students in another county."
And Duckworth said he is looking forward to positive feelings among staff and pupils when the book drive reaches its "summit" in May.
"In the past, we've donated books and they would just go wherever they would go," Duckworth said. "This was the next step to see what we could do to actually put a face with the book."