RoxEl builds community by reading together

Cleveland Heights Mayor Cheryl Stephens spoke to Roxboro students about reading.

For three weeks in January and February, every member of the Roxboro Elementary School community—faculty, staff and students—read the same book.

The initiative started last spring, when first-grade teacher Liz McKinley, who sits on the Nordonia Hills Board of Education, listened to a presentation about One School, One Book (OSOB), a program spearheaded by the national Read to Them organization. She was so impressed, she brought the idea to Michael Jenkins, Roxboro’s principal.

At the same time, Clare Taft, Roxboro’s PTA president, who was searching for ways to build community at the school, read an article about One School, One Book. She brought the idea to Jenkins the next day. Jenkins formed a committee of parents and teachers to lead the effort.

Over the summer, the group, consisting of McKinley, Jenkins, Candace Summers (Title I literacy teacher), and parents Taft, Mary Pat Jolivette and Katie Plesac, chose the fantasy Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi, about a rabbit trying to protect his friend Grahame, a dragon widely believed to be a danger to their village.

“We chose that book because it was so accessible,” said Summers. “Most of our second- through fifth-graders can read it independently, and the story of friendship is universal enough for all ages to appreciate.”

Using Title I funds, the school purchased enough books for every student, teacher and staff member to have a copy. 

Roxboro kicked off the project with an assembly on Jan. 23, at which Mayor Cheryl Stephens spoke about the importance of reading and announced the book title. A giant dragon puppet joined the mayor on stage following the announcement.

Fifth-graders read the first chapter aloud to the assembled school, while parent volunteers quickly placed a brand new book on every child’s desk.

The focus on reading aloud distinguishes OSOB from other reading initiatives. According to its website, “Studies have shown that reading to children helps them to listen better and longer, to build bigger vocabularies, to understand concepts better, to feel positive about both books and learning—and much more.”

Roxboro promoted that idea by inviting guest readers, including Superintendent Talisa Dixon, Mayor Stephens, Police Chief Annette Mecklenberg, and CH-UH School Board President Ron Register to read chapters aloud in classrooms. Leon Napier, school security officer, read aloud to a second-grade class, using what he called his "grandpa voice.”

“We already love books as a family,” said parent Molly Jones, “but this is pretty special.” Her third-grade son was wowed that even his gym teacher read the book.

The OSOB team hosted a Literacy Night on Jan. 26, with dinner, activities, crafts and the distribution of OSOB passports for students to take to local businesses.

Jolivette and Taft arranged with 20 businesses and nonprofits in the Cedar Fairmount and Coventry Village districts to participate in a scavenger hunt. Students had two weeks to visit each business and search for a dragon or knight “hidden in plain sight.” Once found, the students earned a stamp, which qualified them to win prizes, such as a free cookie at Zoss or Luna bakeries.

The project culminated with another assembly on Feb. 9, where prizes were given for door decorations. Lara Troyer, local musician and Roxboro parent, wrote a song about the book, which students performed.

Jenkins said he worked to stay at least one chapter ahead of his students. “That way, when I see them in the hallway, I can ask for their thoughts. It connects us all around the act of reading.”

Kerry Howard agreed. He attended Literacy Night with his first-grade son, Kerrion. "This brings everyone in the community together,” he said.


Krissy Dietrich Gallagher

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, is a former district teacher and a freelance journalist under contract with the CH-UH City School District. A longer version of this story appeared at

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Volume 10, Issue 3, Posted 5:49 PM, 02.28.2017