Friday Reading’s Final Chapter

By David Mohimani –

My feet stuck to the splattered soda on the  floor, my eyes focused intently on the screen.

I was completely enthralled in The Hunger Games, but I wondered how I had  never heard of this series before. I always hated people who went to the movie but didn’t read the book. Now I was that person.

Why now?

I’m usually on top of this type of thing, I am (maybe “was” is a better term) an avid reader, but somehow this wildly popular series slipped by me.

This really doesn’t seem likely.

Senior Jay Jackson enjoys a good book in his free time in the library. Photo by David Mohimani

I was even a huge fan of the author, Suzanne Collins, who wrote another popular series which I absolutely loved.

So I started to think about why I had never heard of the Hunger Games until recently and I came up with one answer.

No Friday Reading.

Let’s do the math. There are twenty-five Fridays (not even including early dismissal days), so let’s say all teachers give the minimum 15 minutes( many of which gave more) that’s 25 hours of reading throughout the year.

I read about 50 pages in an hour, so that is 1,250 pages throughout the year.

That’s is about 3 to 4 books.

In fact, the entire Hunger Games trilogy is 1,153 pages in total.

So in theory I could have read the entire series and gotten a decent start on another book.

But instead of reading, I was stuck doing enrichment and practice for a test I had already completed.

Dr. Jan Mindish implented Friday reading more than a decade ago when  she saw the need for a change in students’ reading habits as well as their attitude towards reading. As well as wanting to gain renewed enthusiasm, Mindish wanted to get Penn Manor off the PSSA warning list.

“We don’t teach reading, kids just fake reading,”said Mindish,” because kids don’t get to read what they want.”

She explained that when students’ arrived in high school, they arrived  to a world where reading was mainly confined to textbooks and educational journals.

“Many kids stop liking to read,” Mindish remarked.

She described a situation when she was principal when a teacher told her that she believed one of her students could not read.

“He was so good at faking it (that you did not realize he couldn’t read).”

Mindish quickly realized that action was required, after Penn Manor’s reading PSSA’s score took a severe dip.

She decided that kids would read books of their choice periodically throughout the week.

It was met by resistance not only by students but also by faculty, she recalled.

“Then kids figured out that if you didn’t have a book they sent you to the library,” said Mindish, noting that was unfortunately a  pleasant alternative for many students to flipping through pages of a novel.

So teachers were required to keep substitute materials in their room for students who “forgot” their books.

Eventually everyone, although somewhat reluctantly, bought into the new free reading time.

This free reading time evolved into its modern name of “Friday Reading” because that became the designated time slot when everyone in the school read.

Kids were not only reading during the mandated time period.

“I saw kids with books all the time, which I thought was so cool,” said Mindish.

Mindish had accomplished the first part of her goal of getting kids to read, but how would they improve PSSA scores?

There was an intial surge in scores, but the long-term effect is still in question.

In 2003, after a slight dip in reading scores from 72 percent proficiency in 2002 they fell to 66 percent the following year.

A reading consultant gave Mindish the idea to have students use a list of reading strategies such as making connections, make predictions, asking questions, and reflecting, just to name a few.

Mindish, along with the district’s administration, decided to provide supplmental practice PSSA materials for students to read on Fridays.

This change from free-choice Friday reading, was met by quite a severe backlash, she recalled.

Students’ formed a petition with more than 240 signatures, objecting to the new reading program because it wasn’t free-choice reading.

The issue was covered by local media and was brought to the attention of the school board.

A program that was once despised by students had turned into something that the kids were adamant about keeping the way it was.

Mindish said the so-called “smart” kids were upset and claimed that they did not need this extra practice.

Despite the criticism, Mindish held the program intact.

“It’s hard to change,” she mused.  If you do it (change), everybody has to do it.”

After the semi-freeze on free reading for a couple of months Mindish allowed students to once again read books of their choice.

The results?

A  three percent increase in reading proficiency.

After this Penn Manor moved to a system that included Friday Reading as well as periodic reading PSSA practice.

The new system improved PSSA scores, from 2001 to 2005 the high school had a 20 percent increase in profciency in math and reading PSSA’s.

This was the highest increase in the county during that time period.

After 2006, Penn Manor scores took a slight decrease before eventually plateaued.

“We just couldn’t seem to get above that 70 percent mark.”

She used the analogy of weightlifting, if you keep doing the same exercises you won’t get stronger, you need to change up the routine, she explained.

Toward the end of her career, Mindish admits she may have gotten a bit “lazy.” She retired at the conclusion of the 2008-2009 school year.

Now Penn Manor is back on that PSSA warning list.

Enrichment was the first step taken,but what if that does not work.?

Friday reading was Penn Manor’s savior last time, but now seems like a distant memory for many Penn Manor students, so distant that one new faculty member did not believe it was a real thing.

What will get us back on track?

That is a decision the administration will have to make.