NHS librarians make March Madness educational

Norcom librarians brought March Madness from the court to the classroom
Posted on 04/04/2023
Norcom librarians brought March Madness from the court to the classroom

Norcom Staff

When someone hears the phrase “March Madness,” the annual collegiate basketball tournaments typically come to mind. At I. C. Norcom High School, however, that reference has taken on a new meaning, thanks to a reading challenge presented by the school’s library staff.

Nicole Miller, the Norcom librarian who spearheaded the challenge, wanted to find a unique way to get students reading outside of the classroom.

March Madness Reading Challenge Flyer and Ticket

“We are always implementing creative ways to engage our students in reading, but I wanted to kick it up a notch and try something completely different to reach those students that don’t frequent the library,” said Miller.

“When she presented the idea to me, I knew it would be a huge hit,” said Carolyn Bushey, the Norcom library media specialist. “The next step was to find the perfect book to go along with the theme.”

Classroom Team

After vetting dozens of books related to basketball, Christina Murphy, a ninth grade English teacher at Norcom and co-creator of the challenge, suggested Kwame Alexander’s “The Crossover,” a graphic novel about a father teaching his twin sons about the “game of life” through the tenants of basketball. The title earned the 2015 Newbery Medal as well as the Coretta Scott King Award Honor.

“The story easily checked all the boxes we were looking for,” said Murphy. “The ninth-graders read this book as part of the Black History Month curriculum and loved it, so I figured the rest of the student body would enjoy it as well.”

Books by Kwame Alexander

The March Madness theme did not stop at the book selection. The more than 175 teachers and students who registered were formed into teams, placed in a bracket structure and scored based on the completion of various tasks related to the book.

“We wanted to bring the spirit of competition into the challenge to make it more engaging,” said Miller. “The bracket got so large that we had to post it on the wall outside of the library so everyone could keep up with their standing in the tournament.”

March Madness Reading Challenge Bracket

Azrael Roulds, a tenth-grade student participant, said she enjoyed the variety of activities they had to complete.

“Each section of the book was put into a video and a different staff member read the book to us,” said Roulds. “After we answered the reading comprehension questions, my favorite part was when we had to guess which staff member in the building read that chapter to earn extra points.”

If the interactive elements weren’t incentive enough, the prizes were quite attractive, including basketballs, swag packs and a pizza party at the end of the month.

Pizza Party for Students

Keeping the focus on reading, the library staff wanted to offer Alexander’s books to the students that participated. To reach that goal, Miller posted the March Madness Reading Challenge’s purpose on Donors Choose, an online platform where educators can submit project proposals for funding. After raising $600 from Norcom alumni, online bookseller Chegg decided to donate the remaining $1,200 balance to cover the purchase.

The outpouring of support continued when Alexander was announced to be the keynote speaker at the Chesapeake Forum being held April 5 at the Chesapeake Conference Center, the same day a series adapted from “The Crossover” will premiere on streaming platform Disney+. School Board Chairman Dr. Cardell Patilio sponsored 30 students to attend the forum, and The Mount Suffolk Church donated to provide the transportation for the students and dinner following the event.

Classroom Team

Miller views the success of the reading challenge as a platform to advocate for the importance of diversity amongst librarians.

“When I attend school librarian conferences and workshops, I rarely see any librarians that look like me,” said Miller. “Representation matters in all aspects of education because it can make students of different demographics feel more connected to the learning experience.”

Students with Books

Staff also shared the rewarding feeling from seeing a newfound spark for reading among students.

“It was awesome to see students coming into the library that don’t typically check out books outside of their required reading,” reflected Bushey. “One student even asked for all of the other books by Kwame Alexander and is currently reading them all.”

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