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Staunton: Bessie Weller Elementary students enjoy reading together

Rebecca Barnabi
Ms. Beville’s 2nd-grade class reads “J.D. and the Great Barber Battle” as a group. Courtesy of Staunton Schools.

At the end of October, students at Bessie Weller Elementary School in Staunton began reading “J.D. and the Great Barber Battle” as part of literacy week.

Literacy week supports the critical role shared reading plays in developing fluency and comprehension skills. The chapter book is part of a witty series about an 8-year-old boy named J.D. He turns a tragic home haircut into a thriving barber business.

Principal Sandra McGrath said “J.D. and the Barber Battle” was chosen for several reasons.

“We always look for books that students can resonate with. Our teachers are very proactive in having titles in their classroom libraries that students can see themselves in,” she said.

Approximately 50 percent of Bessie Weller’s student population is non-white.

McGrath said they’re also planting seeds about career paths at a young age. The book is also about entrepreneurship and having a dream. This morning, after all classes finished reading the book, a local barber and a hairstylist visited the school to talk to upper elementary students about their careers. 

“We believe there are some books you shouldn’t close and put on a shelf. We should take every advantage to make connections from a book to real life,” McGrath said.

The guests shared their work with students, and a staff member may have offered their hair as part of the activity.

McGrath said this is the school’s first attempt at doing a school-wide reading of the same book for kindergarten to 5th-grade students. Each teacher has found time during the day to do group readings with their students or allowed students to do silent reading. They also did trivia-style general comprehension questions about the book during morning announcements, and classes created their own questions, challenging other classes to answer them.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.