Mrs. Skala invites students to experience the power of reading

Ryan Young, Editor-In-Chief

The book is opened and the pages are dog-eared as young Jill Skala tracks her finger along the fantastical story before her flowering and inspired mind, as the bus bounces along the countryside Skala is transformed into a world of imagination and possibility. Years later GLSD English teacher Mrs. Skala inspires and blossoms her students understanding through the transformational power of a book.

“Ever since I can remember back to when my memory started, i’ve been a reader, and I was the kid that always had a book even in the car,” Mrs. Skala said. “I would read on the school bus because I had a really long bus ride to school. It was really bouncy because I lived out in the country so I would put my finger on the page.”

At any free moment throughout the day, Skala could be seen with a book spread open across her lap and her eyes fixated on the sensational words across the crisp pages of a new book.

“My mom would always bring books home, and we would go to the bookstore so I could pick out a new book. Books were always a way to relax at night. I would read right before bed and have that calming time, and I still do it,” Mrs. Skala said. “I find it very relaxing. In fact, my problem now is I fall asleep after a page or two at night.”

While Mrs. Skala enjoys a good novel that relaxes her mind at the end of a busy day, she also is well-versed and deeply interested in research and statistics regarding young students and their learning capabilities that reading can provide.

“There is such a need for personalized learning now, so it’s necessary to allow students to take charge of their own learning and to go with their own personal interests. I wanted to have that aspect in my classes,” Skala said.

With the new schedule implemented this year Mrs. Skala and her teaching partner, Miss. Richards, chose to use the extra ten minutes for each class as an opportunity for their students to pick a book that interests them so they grow and better understand the world around them.

“I wanted to break up the longer period somehow and do an opening activity, but I thought really, what do I want the students to do this year, and the most important thing I could think of was to have students read more,” Skala said.

Each day all ninth-grade students have the opportunity to earn two points for participating in the ten minute independent reading time.

“They get a point for bringing their book and a point for being on task and reading. Honestly, everybody does it and one thing that surprised me was that students very rarely forget their book,” Skala said. “They always have it with them.”

Mrs. Skala has seen both reluctant readers and willing students develop a sense of pride and accomplishment.

“I have had students tell me, ‘I read at home. I never read at home. My mom said, ‘what are you doing.’ Or they will say, ‘I went to Barnes and Noble,’ and they are very proud of that fact,” Skala said.  “Just this week one of my students said, ‘can I finish the last two pages,’– because we were done reading– and I said yeah go ahead, and then he slams the book shut and two minutes later says ‘that was the best book I ever read.’”

Freshman Bobby Fetter explains that Mrs. Skala’s ten minutes of reading gives him an opportunity to escape the stress in his life.

“The ten minute reading session is a great way for me to release my stress from my other morning classes. I always have stressful tests to study for in Biology and History, but once I walk into Mrs. Skala’s classroom, I am completely relaxed,” Fetter said. “ I am improving my reading speed, and I am retaining more information from my books. I very much enjoy reading because I live a high-octane life, so it allows me to downshift.”

Mrs. Skala not only gives her students these ten minutes to read independently, but she also maintains a quiet and peaceful classroom with bookshelves filled with colorful covers and fancy fonts to spark curiosity and ambition.

“I wanted to make my classroom into a calm library atmosphere. I wanted books everywhere– to display them as much as I can. Everywhere you look there is a book. They are sitting in class and they are just looking and there is a whole row of books up there and they are wondering what that one is or looking at that cover and it makes them curious,” said Skala.

With hundreds of books to choose from and a continually growing collection, Mrs. Skala purchases books out of her own pocket that not only relate to her students but also helps to educate and inform them of those who are different.

“I have about 360 books in my library, and I just bought three new books last night. A lot of people think that’s crazy,” Mrs. Skala said. “It probably is, but you know it’s hard to resist because I love books and I love seeing my students read them.”

Mrs. Skala and Miss Richards are also in the process of planning more reading opportunities for future students in an effort that they have a contemporary connection with the classical novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.

“Miss Richards and I are also hoping to implement book clubs next year. We are trying to order eight different titles that show the discrimination people still face today and how the struggle for civil rights extends into our society now. After we finish reading To Kill a Mockingbird together, students will choose a book and meet with a group of four or five other students and be able to talk about that too.”

As a young girl Mrs. Skala was inspired by the transformational power of a book, and she was encouraged by her parents who helped to spark an eventual love of learning. Today, Mrs. Skala inspires and encourages us all to escape into the power of words.

“I think that reading makes you a better person. It helps you build empathy and understand the experiences that people that aren’t like you are going through and it allows you to live in different worlds and really to put yourself in the shoes of someone else, just like Atticus Finch says in To Kill A Mockingbird,” Mrs. Skala said. “I think that is why reading is so special.”