All English teachers and school administrators donned blue T-shirts on Wednesday to announce "Millburn's Big Read," a brand new initiative to unite the school and the Millburn-Short Hills community in reading.
The premise of the "Big Read" is simple: to get everyone in the school to read the same book, which will allow critical discussion in class, amongst friends, between academic departments, between grade levels, and throughout the entire community.
The "Big Read" replaces the previous summer reading model, which had students in different grade levels and different levels of English instruction reading different books. The accelerated Brit Lit students were reading Frankenstein, the CPB Brit Lit students were reading Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, the ninth graders were reading a choice of three books, and the non-AP seniors were given very few guidelines as to what books they chose.
Now all is changed: every student entering a non-AP course will be required to read "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. While AP English students still have to complete their rigorous summer assignment (the Language students have to read three non-fiction works, while the Literature students are reading Jane Eyre, Hard Times, Song of Solomon, and Othello this summer), they are encouraged to read this selection as well.
"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," a New York Times bestseller, is a non-fiction medical thriller. Henrietta Lacks (HeLa), a young African-American tobacco farmer with a fatal illness, had her cells harvested without her knowledge, which led to medical breakthrough after breakthrough. Her cells were "vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more". Meanwhile, her family remained in obscurity and poverty.
All MHS teachers were given copies of the selection, to encourage discussion in the fall about biomedical discoveries (in science classes), ethics and morals (in social studies classes), and race relations and the impact of medical breakthroughs (in history classes).
According to English department chair Jessica Siegel, the department will provide various opportunities for the community to come together to discuss the work, voice opinions, and extend the commentary. She said there might be a chance that the Lacks family could come make a presentation.
If you walked around MHS this week, you have probably seen posters featuring Henrietta Lacks' story lining the hallways, advertising the Big Read. Posters will also be hung downtown and in the Millburn Free Public Library, where various activities will be held.
Readers of all ages are encouraged to visit the English department's blog at http://mhsbigread2012.blogspot.com where they can find discussion questions and critical commentary. Readers may also ask questions or share ideas as they read.
The MHS English Department consists of department chair Jessica Siegel, Patricia Arnold, Melissa Batista, Michelle Blakely, Jeanne Carven, Ellen Hayes, Minaz Jooma, Jane Kade, Sandy Kirschenbaum, Stefanie Klevze, Ellen Krueger, Jessica Landis, Shirley Lazar, Kelly Lormand, Joseph Pedulla, Suzanne Snyder, and Anne McKay Thoroman. To contact the English teachers, email email@example.com.