After reading sections of the books, students participate in classroom discussions and activities to reflect on what they read.
Grand Haven High School Principal Tracy Wilson said the staff selected “Whale Talk” by Chris Crutcher after looking for a novel that would support issues students face. Although students aren’t required to read the book, Wilson said all of them can participate in the weekly discussions because the passages touch on issues all students face.
“The issues and situations in this book are raw and painful, yet allow for us to have focused and purposeful conversations,” she said. “The lessons that are being created by our staff allow for conversations within a classroom to help grow our students' awareness around how we treat others. How what we say and do impacts another person, even if you cannot always see the impact.”
Each Thursday, when staff and students have conversations about the book, school staff wear gold shirts with blue letters stating, "Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be Kind. Always."
Wilson said the shirt represents what they are trying to instill in students.
“We all deserve to be treated with respect, no matter how alike or different we are,” she said.
Wilson said a community group is also reading the book to support the school’s efforts, and they encourage other residents to read “Whale Talk.”
In the coming years, Wilson said they plan to select four novels that can be rotated and re-used every four years to have focused conversations on real-life issues to help prepare students for moving beyond high school.
“It’s important that we grow our students beyond the academic curriculum that the state mandates,” Wilson said.
Fifth- and sixth-grade students at White Pines Middle School have spent the first month of school seeing experiences through an 11-year-old special-needs girl's eyes as they read “Out of My Mind” by Sharon Draper. Principal Mike Shelton said they wanted to focus this year’s book and discussion about diversity and having respect for each other.
To read more of this story, see Saturday’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.