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Park Hill teacher awarded grant to diversify classroom library

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Posted at 6:35 AM, Dec 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-22 07:55:32-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It's those page-turners in a good book some students can't put down.

But for one Park Hill High School sophomore, picking up a book wasn't on the top of her to-do list - at first.

"No, I was not," Jadah Jackson said. "I'm still trying to get into the groove of reading."

And she's finding that groove, thanks to her teacher, Jessica Grider.

"She actually cares about the people that are going to read these books," Jackson said. "I feel like you have a lot of teachers that might not realize how much books affect people, and how much people connect to books. So to have this broad array of books with so many different characters, is very important. I think she really cares about the suit about us."

"It's nothing new to me to encounter students who come to high school and they don't like reading," Grider said. "And I think a lot of it has to do with the lack of variety they see coming from middle school. So when they're able to see a variety of different characters and situations, it gets them more interested they become more intrigued."

The content of classroom libraries is important to the teacher.

"We talk a lot about windows and mirrors in the English-Language Arts world, and so for our majority students, they see a lot of mirrors. They're able to see themselves in books pretty often," Grider said. "For our or marginalized groups, that doesn't happen very often, so it's a big deal to me for them to be able to see themselves in books."

Grider said it's important for her students to be able to see characters who look like them, who have experiences they experience, and who live in situations they live in.

"That's really important, and especially in 2020 when we're thinking about some of the protests in the social and injustices," Grider said. "I want students to be able to look outside themselves and be able to see a variety of different people; to be able to empathize with people who are different than they are. We talk a lot about how fiction humanizes people, and that does nothing but increase empathy in our teenagers."

Last spring, Grider was awarded the Book Love Foundation grant. She received $1,000 to shop an array of individual titles for her classroom library.

"That's a really big deal to me because bringing in diversity in things like race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual identity, gender identity, things like that," Grider said. "I want to be able to show my students a variety of different authors and characters."

And it's making sure students, like Jadah, are mirrored in the books she's reading. She's currently reading Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo.

"I have like a connection to it because it's about this girl, she's a person of color, she's in high school, and she's curious about life," Jackson said. "She's trying to maneuver through high school, she's trying to maneuver through her life at home."

While she finishes up this book, she's eager to pick up the next to see which stories she can find that resemble her and her classmates' lives.

"It's what we live in right now," Jackson said. "It's our reality. There's so many people in this world that are black, white, queer, trans and it's what we live in every day. So to have books that reflect that or just things that reflect that reality is important to see yourself in these types of environments."

Grider said she preaches one main message to her students: You learn who you are based on what you read.

"So you take other characters' experiences and you put yourself in their place, and you think about what you would do in their situation," Grider said. "It takes stories that maybe you hear on the news or out in the world, and it puts them into a more human perspective. And so that's the biggest thing I want, I want my students, and other people, to understand. Reading is such a big open door to all kinds of experiences."