How a middle school book club heard a famous author speak
Middle school students at Stratford Academy are in a book club. Yes, a book club.
And they’re loving it.
“I just really like the story about it,” said Jacob Groover, an eighth-grade student at Stratford. “I loved Caitlin and Martin and how their friendship happened.”
Groover is talking about “I Will Always Write Back,” a book that’s based on a true story about the experience of Caitlin Alifirenka, from Pennsylvania, and Martin Ganda, from Zimbabwe, writing to each other when they were kids.
Alifirenka visited Stratford last Friday to give a presentation about their story and to meet the students.
“Everybody’s been very welcoming,” she said. “I just loved going around to each of the classrooms.”
Stratford Academy’s middle school started reading the book as part of a book club started by Logan Bowlds, the school’s new principal.
Bowlds said they had about 180 students participate in 25 groups. The faculty-led groups could stick to the assigned questions each week, but Bowlds said a lot of the group leaders chose to let the students lead the discussion.
“We wanted the kids to want to do it,” Bowlds said. “One of our biggest issues that we had was the kids were reading it too quickly because they loved the story so much.”
Bowlds said he thought Alifirenka’s visit went great, and the students loved meeting one of the characters in the book.
“It’s hard to hold 180 teenagers captive for nearly an hour, and the fact that they were sitting there the whole time just totally absorbed on the presentation I think meant everything,” he said. “It’s like a character has leapt off a page of a book.”
Eighth-grade student Amalynne Hairston said just that.
“It was very inspiring. I love how just one letter turned into a whole big thing,” she said. “It really inspires me to do something good.”
Alifirenka said that she was excited to speak to the students and encourage them to make small acts of kindness.
“I just thank everybody for sharing and supporting our story. It really makes a big difference in getting our message of kindness throughout the world,” she said. “Kindness truly is contagious.”
Groover said he learned a lot from the book, but there was a message that impacted him the most.
“I think the most important thing that I learned is doing little small acts of kindness can really change a person’s life,” he said.