Book Club

In order to stimulate an enhanced appetite for reading among her students, Sonora Elementary School fifth grade teacher Kari Spurlock created a book club. Imagine the response when the author of the first book selected joined Spurlock’s students and parents by livestreaming from his home in Australia! Needless to say, the book club has become a success.

“It started last year when I wanted to keep readers engaged over winter break,” Spurlock explained. “I gifted every student a copy of Robert Hoge’s memoir, ‘Ugly.” Each student got not only a copy of the book but a notebook for jots, a fun pen and a bookmark with sentence frames to use for their stop and jots.”

Parents were as receptive as their students. In fact, one of them reached out to Hoge to see if he would be willing to visit with Spurlock’s students via Facebook livestream. It began interaction that lasted throughout the second semester and even included a video message of best wishes before students took the ACT Aspire.

“The kids were really excited about the book club, receiving the book and meeting Robert Hoge on Facebook Live,” Spurlock said. “Since all our students are new to my class this year, I am hoping he will do it again.”

Hoge is a journalist, speechwriter, science writer and political advisor. He enjoys engaging people about looking different and being disabled. He loved the interaction with Spurlock’s students as much as they did.

“Kari Spurlock is a champion teacher,” Hoge said. “Arkansas ranks a little below the United States average for education expenditure per student. The average teacher salary hovers around $50,000 a year. But the picture painted by those statistics is only half shaded. The dedication and above-and-beyond commitment of individual teachers to help their students is amazing. It is color and life to these kids. Kari is my hero.”

After Spurlock’s students finished “Ugly,” they moved to “Two Doors Down,” a book about baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson. During spring break the book was “The Girl Who Survived” about a Holocaust survivor. 

The reading was done outside the classroom. Digital discussions were held. By the time the year was concluding, students were leading the discussion. 

“This year we’ve just started our non-fiction unit that should keep them reading in the evenings,” Spurlock said. “We are starting with ‘Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus’ by Dusti Bowing. The author is getting involved and our students are communicating. We have hooked some reluctant readers. We have made it social and related to what students need to learn. We’ve already done three livestream events.”

Spurlock also has made it fun for staff members outside her classroom. Principal Regina Stewman and assistant principal Lindsey Hennarichs have led discussion groups. So have other faculty members. Community partners have helped with the purchases of books and supplies, taking some of the financial burden off Spurlock. Parents have received information on how important it is to read with their students, even those as mature as fifth graders.

“Mrs. Spurlock and her book clubs will be an academic activity that our family will cherish for years to come,” said Nikki Castor, a parent. “To listen and see what our student and teacher were reading and discussing made me feel connected to the learning and growing that was taking place. When it was time for the students to lead is when I saw it all come together. It gave my son the confidence to speak in front of a livestream.

“While my son was nervous to overcome that fear of speaking in front of the livestream, Mrs. Spurlock and her book clubs provided so much growth and connection not only for our student but the whole family.”

Another parent, Candy Reed, added, “Lily, our daughter, looked forward to discussion nights. She could hardly wait to see who was going to be on so she could say hi and share their thoughts about the book. She loved getting to lead the group. I think it boosted her self confidence in reading because all her friends always had positive things to say and Mrs. Spurlock was very supportive.”

With Bowing already sharing conversation with Spurlock’s students about her book “Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus,” this year’s book club is off to a terrific start. No doubt Spurlock is inspiring her students to become life long lovers of reading. Her innovative techniques for promoting reading interest are another reason Springdale Public Schools are #THEChoice.