Education in its broadest sense includes acquiring knowledge and skills through various learning activities. Reading is one such important activity that facilitates the learning process. It is a source of not only knowledge and wisdom but also inspiration and entertainment. It expands mental horizons and nurtures thinking and empathy in the readers.
Students at Himalayan Inter College (HIC) come from remote areas in the Himalayas and are often first generation learners in their families. Knowing the value of reading skills and its benefits, teachers encourage their students to read for both information and for pleasure.
The Himalayan Education Foundation (HEF) board in association with HIC, initiated a reading program in 2019. Betsy DiPrima, a HEF board member, took an active interest in its implementation and raised funds specifically for acquiring books. She helped set up a lending library for the students to encourage students to read in their leisure time.
Laxika Bisht, a current editor of the school newsletter and a 12th class student, is an enthusiastic member of the program. In the following essay, she penned down her thoughts about how the program began and evolved and also what reading meant for the students. It is heartening to note the reading program continued without interruption even as the world came to a stand still during the COVID pandemic.
How we started reading and loving books
– Laxika Bisht
“I struggle in pronouncing big words. They terrify me.”
“How can someone possibly read a book? It’s exhausting!” (said a top athlete of our school)
“The words dance for me.”
These are some of the statements that I received in a small interview where I asked students from junior and senior school about how they felt about reading.
It can be a daunting task for many, especially for those who struggle with pronouncing big words or who find it exhausting to sit through a book making it all the more challenging to focus.
However, despite these obstacles, reading is an important part of our lives, shaping our imaginations and broadening our perspective.
As the great poet Emily Dickinson once said, “There is no Frigate like a Book to take us Lands away.” Yet, for many students, the journey of reading remains unexplored, the sails of their imaginations untouched. It is a disheartening reality that in today’s fast-paced world, where entertainment options are abundant, reading has taken a backseat in the lives of young people.
It is a fact that reading is an essential skill, one that opens up a world of possibilities. Unfortunately, not all students are fortunate enough to have access to a diverse range of books. This is where the Himalayan Inter College library has played a pivotal role in shaping the reading habits of the students.
The school library, which was established a few years ago, was not an instant success. It took the vision and efforts of the HEF members, especially Betsy’s guidance, to turn it into the vibrant hub of reading it is today. As a passionate educator, she realized that many students in HIC struggled with reading, finding books foreign, daunting, and unrelatable. She understood the importance of reading, not just for academic purposes, but also for personal growth and development.
However, simply filling a room with books was not enough. The students needed to be motivated and inspired to read, to see books as a source of pleasure and enjoyment rather than a chore or obligation. Betsy, therefore, came up with several innovative strategies to encourage and engage the students in reading.
One of the strategies was to introduce short Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) periods, during which students would choose a book of their choice and read for a set amount of time. This allowed students to explore different genres and authors and discover their own interests and preferences.
With the generous help from HEF, we also organized book fairs, where students could browse and purchase books, and created book charts to showcase the important literary devices. Betsy encouraged open recommendations from students, allowing them to suggest books they would like to see in the library. She then worked with the bookshops to source these books, which were shipped within months, making the students feel heard and valued.
Betsy – Our guiding spirit
In addition, she recognized the importance of diversity and inclusivity in literature. When students raised a voice against the library’s collection being predominantly English she made an effort to diversify it by taking recommendations from students and ordering books that were funded entirely by HEF. This initiative not only broadened the range of books available in the library but also promoted cultural understanding and empathy among students.
Our efforts have had a significant impact on the way students perceive reading. Students no longer see books as a burden or chore, but as an escape and refreshment for the brain. The book club meetings that she initiated have been particularly successful in engaging students and fostering a love of reading. The club selects a book of the week two weeks in advance, and students gather to discuss their favorite characters, plot twists, and what they like and dislike about the protagonist and antagonist. These meetings have introduced students to important social issues such as colorism and feminism and have sparked thought-provoking discussions.
As a result of these initiatives, the number of students reading for pleasure has increased substantially, and the library has become a hub for learning and exploration. Students who were once reluctant to pick up a book are now avid readers, eager to discover new authors and genres.
It’s worth reflecting on the transformation that occurred at HIC since the initiative had begun. From a student body that struggled with reading, we have become a community that cherishes the written word and sees it as a source of joy and enlightenment.
It’s heartwarming to see the excitement on the faces of students as they browse the shelves of our library, flipping through pages and discovering new worlds. The book club meetings are lively and engaging, with students discussing their favorite authors and characters with a passion that is contagious.
So, let this be a lesson to all of us: with a little creativity and perseverance, we can transform even the most reluctant readers into book lovers. And who knows, maybe one day we’ll have a future Nobel Prize winner in literature among us – or at the very least, a few more students who can pronounce big words without fear!
So here’s to HEF, Betsy and our library, and to a future full of avid readers, Happy reading and Hearty smiling!