Oakwood Elementary book club growing page by page

Every month – over the course of two days – 79 fourth- and fifth-grade students at Oakwood Elementary School on Plymouth’s southern edge stick around after the final bell rings.

They’re not being punished – they’re there on their own free will. And they’re not playing

Students in Oakwood Elementary School’s fifth-grade book club react to teacher Jeff Miller’s revelation that he didn’t have pizza at his house until he was 10. The club, which is led by Miller and media specialist Alice Williams, meets once per month. The fourth-grade club also meets once per month. (Photo by Jared Huizenga – Sun Newspapers)

football or basketball – they’re exercising their minds rather than their bodies.

The reason for the after hours attendance? The school’s fourth- and fifth-grade book club.

The club’s history dates back to 2008, when 43 students signed up. Each year since then membership has grown. In 2009, the club was separated by grade level due to the rising interest.

“What’s special is that we have more than 45 percent participation between the two grades,” said Alice Williams, the school’s media specialist and club co-leader. “There’s one other elementary school in the [Wayzata] district that has a book club, but it’s not at this level.”

Student participation in clubs is actually common at Oakwood, Williams said. In addition to the book club, 111 students take part in a weekly running club, more than 40 have joined the chess club and a large number of students take part in the school’s choral program.

But in an age where sports, outside activities and video games seem to win the day, Williams said she’s thrilled to see so many students taking an active interest in reading.

Each month Williams and the other club leader – fifth-grade teacher Jeff Miller – select a book for each grade level. The students then have about one month to read the book and formulate opinions to share with their fellow club members.

Each meeting begins with the students going around the room and sharing their rating of the book on a 1-10 scale. After Williams and Miller pose some questions to get the students to think more in depth about what they’ve read, the students again go around the room and share what their favorite part of the book was.

November’s fifth-grade selection was “Schooled” by Gordon Korman. “Schooled” is the story of a young man who was raised on a commune by his grandmother. After his grandmother is injured in a fall, the boy is taken from the commune and placed in the custody of a guidance counselor. He doesn’t understand technology, has never had pizza and doesn’t know anything outside of the commune.

The students were asked questions like whether the grandmother should have taught him more of the outside world?

The responses varied from “she should have taught him about computers” to “he’s just fine the way he is” to “how could he not know what pizza is?”

Miller said such varied answers are commonplace, adding that he and Williams encourage the students to share their thoughts and opinions – at least to a certain extent.

“We try to stay as hands-off as possible,” he said. “This really is their club.”

While the critical thinking is a bonus, for many of the students, the club is simply about their love of reading.

“I’m a big fan of reading, it’s my favorite thing to do,” Sakariye Mohamed said. “I joined so I could learn about more books.”

Sakariye said he also enjoys discussing the books because he gets to find out about why the other students liked or didn’t like the book.

Melody Hernandez and Gabriel Heidelberger said they also like the back and forth discussions of the club, but have their own favorite parts of the club.

“I joined last year so I could read some new books,” Melody said. “Some have good lessons in them and I’ve got to meet new people.”

“It got me into reading more,” Gabriel said. “I’m better at it now and enjoy it more.”

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