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FHS students, staff come together for 'One Book, One Community'

Most schools give their students some form of reading to complete over the summer.

Students, depending on their grade level, read books ranging in genre from fiction to autobiographies.

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But at Franklin High School in Reisterstown, all students — regardless of age or grade — will be reading the same book over the summer as part of the school's "One Book, One Community" initiative.

"This has just been going on for a few years and what makes it different is that in the past we used to give students in different grade levels different books to read," said Karen O'Connor, English department chair and leader of the summer reading program committee at FHS. "So this way we feel like every student in the school is involved in the summer reading and being able to talk to anybody else."

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This year's book is "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates," by Wes Moore. In addition to students, every staff member and teacher is required to read the book, as well.

To decide this year's book, members of the summer reading program committee participated in intensive discussions and book swaps.

Members read about eight books before making their final decision.

"We had a summer reading committee where we had like six or seven teachers and we also had one PTSA member and we all said 'Hey, let's try this, we heard it was a good book,' and we'd all decide if it was a good book," O'Connor said.

O'Connor said the committee chose the book both for the proximity of the story's events to the school and for the message it has for young people.

"We chose 'The Other Wes Moore' … because this book is about two young men growing up in Baltimore City and they were only a few blocks from each other," O'Connor said. "And the one grows up, goes to a military academy, gets a degree; he becomes an author; he goes on the right path. The other Wes Moore, so he went on the other path and was involved in the robbery of J. Brown Jewelers, which is in Pikesville right down the road from us, and he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole because there was a shooting during the robbery and an off-duty police officer was killed."

Franklin High English teacher and committee member Elizabeth McNeilly said the choice of "The Other Wes Moore" was fabulous.

"When I was reading it, at first I wasn't sure if it would be something that kids would like since it was an autobiography, but it's written very matter-of-factly, and then it's also about real kids in Baltimore growing up right in our backyard," she said. "As an English teacher, it's also very well written, so I was pleased with that, as well. There are many autobiographies that aren't well written and I wanted to make sure the quality of the writing was up to the expectations of the English department of our school, as well."

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Elizabeth Holden, a Franklin history teacher and a member of the committee, said the book is a good choice for young adult readers.

"I like the book we chose," she said. "I think it really relates to high school students because a lot of the book focuses on this young man and … they can see the impact of choices and they also can see the value of second chances."

Classwork surrounding the book, which was selected in April, began at the end of the spring semester.

During English classes, students were given the opportunity to review newspaper articles detailing the events described in the book.

"They are actual articles that had appeared in The Baltimore Sun at the time," O'Connor said. "The one is about the shooting itself and what happened during the shooting and the other one is about the sentencing and how [Moore] was sentenced and why and a little bit of background on that."

When the students come back from summer break, discussions about the book will continue, but not just in English classes.

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"They will have one class period … where the whole school, every bit of instruction in the whole school will be about the text," O'Connor said.

They will also get the chance to delve into the text in English class, but the amount and scope of that work will be decided by individual teachers.

O'Connor said she got the idea for "One Book, One Community" from department chairs at Eastern Tech and Towson High who have recently been employing the program.

Debbie Hanlon, committee member and vice president of Franklin's Parent Teacher Student Association, said she likes the idea of "One Book, One Community," because so many people can be involved, from students to staff members.

McNeilly said the program offers teachers and students a smooth transition into the fall semester's learning material.

"It's nice having one book that you know they've all read, so when you begin the year, you start off conversations discussing that book right away," she said.

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O'Connor said the program is a way to bring the entire school together.

"I love this idea," she said. "Last year I was the one that picked the book by myself, convinced the PTA and the English department and the principal that this was a great book. I think as it grows each year it really can get the kids involved in really wanting to read something. I think it unites us because it's something everyone has read instead of different books for different grade levels."

Hanlon, whose son is an 11th-grader at Franklin, said she hopes reading "The Other Wes Moore" teaches students "to always put a lot of thought into everything that you do and think about the ramifications of that choice ... They need to understand that one choice can change their entire life," she said.

The book offers a prime example of that life lesson, she said.

"The stark contrast between the two Wes Moores goes to show you, you can come from the same place with similar problems and be very successful, or you can take the wrong path and end up losing your freedom," she said.

O'Connor agreed, but said she hopes students also take the time to look deeper.

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"I'm hoping as they go through each grade level and they have these discussions with their English teachers, they'll see that it's not just as simple as which choice did they make but what were the contributing factors? Why were they making those choices? What does it say about our society?" she said.

Hanlon hopes her son, who got the chance to preview the books being discussed on the committee, learns from the text, as well.

"He read the jackets of all the books that I read just so I could get his perspective of whether they sounded interesting at all," she said. "I hope that he gets the same thing [as other students], that one bad decision can really affect your whole life."

Holden agreed.

"I hope they understand the value of choices they can make and that they recognize that even at a young age you make choices that can impact your entire life," she said.

Elaina.clarke@carrollcountytimes.com

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