Cicely Lewis, a media center specialist at Meadowcreek High School, Norcross, Georgia, (the most diverse secondary institution in the state) started her “Read Woke” programme in 2017 in answer to student questions about the number of black boys being gunned down by police and changes in immigration laws. She created a reading revolution. “Read Woke” is a book club and literacy advocation program combined. Delving into books about protagonists challenging the status quo or bringing a voice to society’s margins, students (including those who had never finished a book before) are reading all over the school, teachers changed their reading lists and followed her teaching model to revitalize their classroom lessons. What started in her school in Georgia spread like wildfire after a local news station covered the story and now educators as far afield as Norway, Canada and the UK are creating their own “Read Woke” programs and reading lists.
Collaborative spaces were created for students with new furniture, installed glass study rooms creating welcoming spaces for them to work in groups or alone. For group work each space has a mediascape allowing students to project their work, enhancing collaboration by allowing information sharing from all participants. Cicely created an online scheduler for teachers to reserve spaces for students; teachers create an online pass and can send their students to the media center to work. Desktops were replaced with laptops so students can work wherever they like and exercise bike desks in the library so they can exercise while they study.
Cicely created lessons and activities to help make teens more tech savvy and socially conscious. She did this by expanding “Read Woke” to create “Tech Woke”, using technology to help solve social justice issues, completing literacy-based activities with tech tools while promoting digital citizenship.
She has also created a “Read Woke” program personalized for special needs students using 100 picture books to explore social justice issues and with their teacher created lessons for them. Cicely has helped raise money for the county’s public schools’ bookmobile which she volunteers on in the summer, as it visits neighbourhoods six days a week so children can access books at the same time as being served meals. Cicely also sponsors H.O.P. E. (Hispanic Organization Promoting Education) providing translation services for parent teacher conferences and other community events. She launched a “Vote Woke Challenge” promoting voter registration and voting among young people which caught on to the extent that she was invited with her students to meet Michelle Obama and was congratulated by the former First Lady.
As a result of her efforts Cicely has seen library footfall and student test scores increase dramatically, and her outreach and fundraising efforts have all combined to see her win a host of awards including national teacher awards for lifelong readers and national school librarian of the year. Cicely says her goal is to provide a positive learning experience for each student who walks through her school doors. She wants them to leave feeling connected but most importantly she wants them to return.