The selection for this year’s One Book, One Community program at Northdale Middle School came directly from the program’s target audience: a student.
Beth Neil, a reading specialist and English Language Arts (ELA) department leader, had purchased “Bystander,” by James Preller at a book fair.
She put the book out for students to read and one of her students picked it up to read.
“Because I teach reading strategies, I don’t always have engaged readers, but he reported all the way through it and loved it,” Neil said.
“The bullying concept is easy to understand and the book is accessible, so I brought it up at a literary meeting.”
The book is told from the perspective of Eric, a seventh-grade boy who moves to a new town.
In search of friends, he meets Griffin. Although cool and popular, Griffin always seems to be in the middle of bad things and if he doesn’t like someone, they are in trouble.
Eric wants to do the right thing and stop being friends with Griffin, who he realizes is a bully.
The book explores how Eric can stop being a bystander to Griffin’s bullying without becoming a victim himself.
While Northdale staff were excited about “Bystander” because they felt it ties nicely with the work they are doing on bullying, harassment and building a culture of respect, they were unsure they could use the book because of the cost.
In the first two years of the One Book, One Community program, Northdale was able to provide every student and staff person a copy of “Lawn Boy,” by Gary Paulsen and “Black Duck,” by Janet Taylor.
To do the same with “Bystander” would have cost the school about $10,000.
Julie Klund-Schubert, an assistant principal, said staff began to think about how they could give students access to the book.
Klund-Schubert contacted Preller and asked the author for his permission for the book to be recorded.
Within two hours Preller replied “of course” and “Bystander” became this year’s One Book, One Community program selection.
“He really saved us,” Klund-Schubert said.
By chance, Neil has an interest in reading out loud and has taken a class to do so.
Her interest began when she worked at Evergreen Park. Every day she would read to students at lunch; many times she would look up and see adults standing at the back of the room.
“It’s such fun to read out loud,” Neil said. “This is my first ‘professional gig.’ I recorded the book over the summer.”
In addition to Neil’s recording, teachers received a calendar of when to play each chapter and discussion questions to go along with the book.
The learning targets for students are: I can identify bullying behavior in myself and others; I can identify bystander behavior in myself and others; I know the words and actions to intervene when I witness bullying; and I can contribute to Northdale’s community of respect.
Thanks to the work of Gretchen Foht, Northdale’s volunteer coordinator, the school was able to purchase enough copies of the book for all staff to receive a copy.
Klund-Schubert hopes that in addition to students, the cooks, paras, custodians and teachers will have a good conversation about the book.
“We were looking for something realistic about bullying and we thought this was a book kids could relate to,” Klund-Schubert said.
“The main character doesn’t always do the right thing, it makes him real.”
The One Book, One Community program began in mid-September and will wrap at the end of October.
In addition to class discussion about the book, students will review Anoka-Hennepin’s brochure “Do you really know what BULLYING is,” and write notes about it.
Students will also receive crossword puzzles and word finds related to bullying. And vignettes will be developed to help students learn the difference between joking, teasing and bullying.
As October is National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month, Northdale will have other anti-bullying activities such as a presentation by CLIMB Theatre.
Parents and guardians can learn more about “Bystander” and the One Book, One Community program by going to the Northdale Middle School website at www.anoka.k12.mn.us/nms.