Feeding the Minds of Our Future

2022 held many changes for me and my career. One of the biggest by far was switching from teaching senior level English at a large public high school in Florence, SC, to taking on the role of first ever high school English teacher at Virtus Academy. As part of Virtus’ charter, the school offers project-based learning experiences for students and each year they add on a grade level. This is the first year they would have ninth grade, and I saw it as an opportunity to be a part of a school whose philosophy aligned with my own.

Excited for the upcoming school year, I started planning a curriculum right away. I knew I wanted student choice to play a large part in how I teach, but my personal library was limited to classical novels. Because the school is so new, there is no library for students to go to. Teachers all put in the time and money to keep their own classroom libraries, but all of the books so far were geared toward elementary and middle school kids.

It was important to me that I have a library full of books relevant to what teens are faced with in the world today, and I wanted a good bit of my library to consist of banned or challenged books.

Florence, SC, is a rural city along the Bible belt and I-95 corridor of shame, a combination which leaves a lot of kids, sadly, lacking knowledge of realms beyond what is taught at church and/or home. It is my professional philosophy that students should be encouraged to explore topics from multiple perspectives in order to help them empathize with others and become better versions of themselves. The best way to do this safely is through books.

Fast forward to the first week of school: a singular bookshelf sat near the window, filled with classical literature and a few YA novels my professors gave to me as a parting gift (Dr. Nelson, if you’re reading this, I thank you and the English department at FMU again!). Using a legal pad, I called each student to my desk to request books they were interested in but did not have access to. I ended up with two pages of recommendations, and a small classroom supply check that was mostly spent already.

When the Sigma Tau Delta Classroom Library Grant award letter arrived, I had all of the books my students requested in a shopping cart on ThriftBooks. Before placing the order, I went back through the lists with my students and we added to it. A lot. Many students kept saying, “I want this book, but it has some bad language in it,” and it led to great conversations about why some books that contain crass language or difficult topics are so valuable to society. We started to talk about banned and challenged books in a hands-on approach that seemed more relevant to my students than in the past. They would give me a title, we would research the book and find out why it was banned/challenged. Then I would let them tell me whether or not they wanted it in the library, and if the answer was yes (it always was) we put it on the list.

A few weeks later, they were helping me unload packages of books and eagerly opening them in the classroom. Watching teenagers get excited over books triumphs as my favorite memory of teaching so far. Immediately, every student who requested a book picked up the title they wanted and started reading.  In the end, we were able to purchase over 77 titles, and I had to get two new bookshelves (both of which are already full and we now have books lining the window sill of my classroom).

Sigma Tau Delta came through for my students, and I am so grateful that someone out there is fighting to foster book love in a way that new teachers need.

Students asked for (and received) the following titles:

The Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe by Stephen Hawking
Personal Finance for Dummies by Eric Tyson and Ray Brown
The Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan
Misery by Stephen King
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by Carl Sagan
Tripwire (Jack Reacher book 3) by Lee Child
Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer
Percy Jackson and the Olympians (full series) by Rick Riordan
Showdown by Ted Dekker
Boneman’s Daughters by Ted Dekker
The White Fox Chronicles by Gary Paulsen
Borrowed Finery: A Memoir by Paula Fox
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
The Hunger Games (full series) by Suzanne Collins
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D. Wattles
Day Trading for Dummies by Ann C. Logue
Truckers: The First Book of the Nomes by Terry Pratchett
Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan
The Mind Readers by Lori Brighton
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco
From Percy Jackson: Camp Half-Blood Confidential: Your Real Guide to the Demigod Training Camp by Rick Riordan
Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire by John August
Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon by John August
All Our Broken Pieces by L.D. Crichton
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (a Hunger Games Novel) by Suzanne Collins
The Challenge by Danielle Steel
Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert A. Heinlein
Forged by Fire by Sharon M. Draper
Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War by Mark Bowden
The Sixth Sense by Stuart Wilde
Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman
Tears of a Tiger by Sharon M. Draper
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman
It by Stephen King
Where She Went by Gayle Forman
The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
The Long Haul (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #9) by Jeff Kinney
Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman
The Secret Place by Tana French
I Was Here by Gayle Forman
The Choosing by Rachelle Dekker
The Girl in the Picture by Alexandra Monir
One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas
An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Night of the Bats! (Minecraft Woodsword Chronicles #2) by Nick Eliopulos
Heartstopper #1: A Graphic Novel by Alice Oseman
The Bluford High Series by Anne Schraff, Paul Langan, Peggy Kern, et al.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

And I, of course, added a few to the list that they had not heard of yet, such as The Luxe series by Anna Godbersen, some books by Paula Fox, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and Gabbi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero.

Amy Bradberry
Classroom Library Grant Recipient, 2022
Virtus Academy, Charter Institute at Erskine
Florence, SC


Sigma Tau Delta Classroom Library Grants

Sigma Tau Delta’s Classroom Library Grants are designed to enhance the Society’s goals of

  • promoting interest in literature and language in the surrounding communities;
  • fostering all aspects of the discipline of English, including literature, language, and writing; and
  • serving society by fostering literacy.

The Classroom Library Grants are also intended to support our members who have entered the field of teaching and need material support to help achieve these goals through their work in the classroom by providing their students with a library in their own classrooms, especially where access to school or public libraries or to books in the home may be limited.

The Society will award up to five grants of $400 each per cycle to help members of Sigma Tau Delta who have been teaching in a Middle School or High School classroom for five years or fewer. That is, applicants may or may not be recent college graduates; the Classroom Library Grant is intended to help new Middle School and High School teachers, whether in their first years out of college or in the first years of a second career, to build a classroom library for their students.

Criteria For Selection

In choosing recipients, the Classroom Library Grant Committee will consider the following criteria:

  • lack of economic and geographic access to books at your school, or another demonstrated need;
  • the explanation of how the classroom library envisioned will support your goals in alignment with the Society’s goals; and
  • supervisory endorsement of your classroom library project.

Please note that this grant is now only available to middle school and high school educators.

Deadline and Dates

Applications will be accepted July 17 through August 7, 2023, 11:59 p.m. Central Standard Time (CDT). There will only be one application period for the 2023-2024 academic year.

Past Classroom Library Grant Recipients

Classroom Library Grant: A Book Blessing
Classroom Libraries: Inclusivity and the Reluctant Reader
“I Finished a Book!”: A Classroom Library’s Impact
The Unofficial Guide to Getting the Best Books for your Classroom
Creating Lifelong Readers with a Classroom Library Grant
The Contemporary American Dream: The Impact of a Classroom Library Grant
Building My Classroom Library: A Bright Spot in a Tough Year
Special Books for Special Students
New Books, New Motivation
If You Build a Classroom Library, They Will Read
Books are Our Passports to the World
Striking a Match

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