Sigma Tau Delta is The International English Honor Society. Each year there are many social events, prominent guest speakers, and fund raisers all aimed at the intellectual growth of Sigma Tau Delta students in the Department of English. But, another important part of this society is reaching out to the community.
A book drive benefiting Whetstone High School students was one of Sigma Tau Delta's most successful opportunities for outreach of 2011. This event, that took place last April and was held at Half Price Books on Lane Avenue, exceeded everyone’s expectations.
Dan Porembski was the Service Chair for Sigma Tau Delta at the time. He recalled that “Outside of the money we raised to help benefit the Whetstone HS Library, we were able to get over four cases of books, both from donations by Half Price Books customers and Sigma Tau Delta Members, as well as a generous donation of books from Half Price Books themselves.” Sigma Tau Delta volunteers managed this while sitting outside the front door of the bookstore. It was a cloudy, and sometimes rainy, day in April but it was all done for the “opportunity to help get some young students excited about reading,” said Porembski.
To understand the importance of this event was, it is necessary to understand the reason this service project was created. Hannah Nichols, Sigma Tau Delta President 2010-2011, originally came up with the idea the previous year and found it to be a successful project. Through Sara Hardin, Whetstone HS was added last year. Hardin is a Sigma Tau Delta alumna and was a student teacher at Whetstone HS. She is working towards her master’s in Education & Human Ecology. For her final master’s portfolio she was researching the reading comprehension of students as well as how to encourage reading for fun. This was difficult since many of her tenth grade students did not have access to books at home, and the school library did not have the funding to stock up on current books that her students would be interested in reading.
This situation led to Hardin approaching the Sigma Tau Delta Executive Board to ask if the upcoming book drive could benefit Whetstone HS. The board was excited for the opportunity to help and soon she had the support of Columbus City Schools and Whetstone HS. Hardin was surprised and pleased that the principal, Amy Dennis, and the two English teachers she worked with, Beth Fitz who was her mentor teacher and Tony Collinger who is the intervention specialist, allowed her to replace their curriculum for a month with her reading program.
When the books were delivered, Sigma Tau Delta members were present. During three class periods, Hardin’s English students not only received the donated books, but they listened as each Sigma Tau Delta member told them about their favorite book and why reading is important to them. At first many of the students were quiet and did not say much. Hardin said, “Some of them were in shock…They couldn’t believe, first of all, that people had done this for them, that all of these people had collectively made this effort for them to read.” She went on to explain that throughout the following weeks the students got increasingly excited. She also saw the student’s perspectives towards reading change.
At the end of the school year she passed around class surveys. A number of students referred to event as the most fun they had all year. From her research and experience in working with the students Hardin says “There really are a couple big ingredients that you need to have to build a reader; you need to have access to books… you have to have role models too… and you have to have an openness to try… and start experimenting. If it doesn’t happen in school, where will it?”
The Half Price Book drive and Sigma Tau Delta visit to Whetstone HS became a service opportunity that rose higher than anyone thought it would. It is not simply the amount of money or books donated, but how the students changed their views about reading. They were not the only ones affected though. The OSU students of Sigma Tau Delta also benefited by volunteering and realizing that reading is sometimes taken for granted. The service project was beneficial, but it was also fun and enlightening. Porembski thinks back to the start of this project and remembers that “All of this stems from a simple idea: a single book may be all that is holding these students from changing their lives."
Report by Andrea Leigh Hilliard, AU11 Website Intern