A Reading Sanctuary

June 12, 2018

A Reading Sanctuary

Visness wins $2,000 Book Love Grant

Emily Visness Hundreds of books stacked two rows deep line the bulging shelves of Emily Visness’ classroom library: Books about characters from marginalized backgrounds, books hand-picked with students in mind; books ready to be loved.

For 14 years the Park Crest Middle School English teacher has been collecting books and shaping students into life-long readers. Her ability to inspire a love of reading stood out and in June Visness was awarded a $2,000 grant from the Book Love Foundation, which will provide more books for her classroom library.

Penny Kittle, founder of Book Love Foundation, left Visness a voicemail announcing the honor.

“I think I dropped the phone and screamed a little and the kids looked at me like I was losing my mind,” Visness said. “I had to put the voicemail code in again and listen because I was like, ‘Wait, what? What’s going on?’”

Fellow English teacher Kelly Weigand notes Visness’ award is well-deserved.

“Emily has her interests and her fingers on the pulse of reading, and especially at the middle school level more so than any other teacher I’ve ever known. I think that played a huge part in why she was selected.”

In his recommendation letter, Park Crest Middle School Principal Zack Kleypas describes the reading-friendly atmosphere in Visness’ classroom.

“She has transformed her classroom from a room with four walls to a reading sanctuary. You cannot help but be inspired when you walk into her room and are greeted with her calming personality.”

After attending a Book Love Foundation conference in April 2017, Visness began incorporating techniques like book talks, independent reading and student conference time in her teaching. By using these techniques with fidelity, Visness greatly impacted student growth 

“There was a direct correlation between the amount they grew in their reading and the number of books they were reading,” Visness said. “I had some kids grow between three and six grade levels just in one semester of reading. 

Visness actively searches for the best books in children’s literature, with the mission of finding titles she believes will resonate with each of her students. Her Amazon wish list is full of books that reflect the characteristics of her eighth-graders.

“Kids have to be able to have validation that their life is not strange or different or bad,” Visness said. “If it’s not in literature they often think they are so different people don’t want to write books about kids like them.”

Visness hopes that by adding more titles to her collection relating to her students, she will provide more opportunities for students to find someone like themselves in the pages of a book.

“Every time I buy a new book I look at the shelf and think, ‘Which one of my students does not have a character in a book that looks like them, has a life like them, has a family like them?’ Those are the books I buy first.”