Books Rock Café Takes Students to Another World

***image2***It’s 8 a.m. and the cappuccino machine is already up and running. You can smell the theatre-style popcorn long before you hear it popping. Lemonade concoctions, juice and soft drinks are chilling. Yummy treats fill baskets on the counter, ready for the hungry tummies that will soon gobble them up. Songs from the 50’s and 60’s rock from a nearby compact disc player. Sounds like your neighborhood diner or coffee shop is ready for the breakfast crowd, except in this case the crowd is made up of students at Hanahan Middle School (HMS). The shop is the school’s most popular gathering place, "Books Rock Café."

Tucked inside the HMS main library, the café is definitely the place to be among students, who must earn their admission into the shop by accumulating points through reading. Media Specialist and Café Manager, Linda Hall, buzzes about in preparation for her first customers of the day.

***image3***"Before the café, we would pop popcorn in the library and have punch for the kids," said Hall, as she adds more kernels to the popcorn maker. "But it soon became too hard to accommodate everyone. We really needed to have a separate place."

She also wanted to provide kids with new, fun incentives for reading as well as an immediate reward (instead of having to wait until the end of a grading period or the school year). Hall decided to turn her old workroom, an area that once housed a laminating machine and copier, into a place of refuge for students. Indeed, Books Rock Café has become a world apart from the classrooms and the hustle and bustle of school life. It is a place where students can rest, recharge, and most importantly, read.

"This is a daily reward for the students," said Hall, who has worked in the field of education for 28 years. "If they get just 5 points for reading, they can come. The five points can be earned for reading a ‘moderate’ level book, like one from the Hardy Boys’ series, of about 125 – 150 pages. That way, just about every child has an opportunity to visit the café."

It’s about 8:15 and the day’s first customers, a group of fifth grade students, have begun to file in. Joshua Glass, a Daniel Island resident, moves up to the counter, where Hall is waiting to take his order.

"I’ll have a ‘Razzle Dazzle’," said Joshua, referring to one of the café’s most requested specialty drinks, a blend of raspberry and lemon Crystal Light. After getting his drink and a few pieces of chocolate, he finds a seat and cracks open the latest Christopher Paolini novel, Eldest.

"I like that you get to come every week," added Joshua, in between bites of his snack. "It really makes kids want to read because they know for every five points they earn, they can come here."

Next to Joshua is fellow Daniel Island resident Ben Guthrie, who has selected a hot chocolate with whipped cream (parents must sign a permission slip approving caffeinated beverages). They are joined by Cora Petyak, another neighbor and classmate.

"I like it because I love to read," said Cora, "and you get rewards. It’s different from elementary school."

Books Rock Café also earns high marks from parents. Janice Glass, Joshua’s mom, said the café really helped smooth his transition from fourth grade at Hanahan Elementary to fifth grade at Hanahan Middle.

"I think it really gave him something to look forward to," said Glass, who believes the jump from elementary to middle school can be somewhat daunting for students. "He felt like he had a little something special that (his younger siblings) didn’t have."

Parents are also invited to join in the fun by participating in the program with their children.

"We have eight parents and some teachers who are very active in the program," added Hall. "They earned over 300 points in the first 9 weeks of school."

The Books Rock Café cost about $6,000 to create, said Hall, who contributed about $1500 of her own money to get things started (she’s since been paid back). There were supplies and furniture to purchase as well as room preparation costs. Students use pre-paid debit cards to shop in the café. Parents can put money on the cards for their children to use. Hall said they have about $3000 total on the cards now, which she uses to keep food and beverages stocked. In addition, there is free popcorn and cold water for each and every customer.

At first glance, Books Rock Café looks like a cross between Al’s Diner from the old "Happy Days" television series and the Starbucks at Barnes and Noble. In addition to the drinks and snacks, there are daily newspapers and current magazines to consume. The walls come alive with 50’s style artwork painted by Rick Alexander, a parent whose son is a student at HMS. Colorful lights dangle from the ceiling and tables draped with red cloths are scattered about the room. Under the glass tops on each table are covers from books voted most popular among students across the state of South Carolina.

"Our theory is if you put it in front of them, they’ll talk about it," said Hall.

That theory clearly works, as evidenced by the program’s newest numbers. The points earned by the school’s higher level readers have increased to three times what they were before Books Rock Café opened in August of 2004, according to Hall. In fact, it seems all levels of reading have increased.

"We started out with just about 25 students a day in the library," added Hall. "Today we get close to 300."

Students at Hanahan Middle School, like other schools in the area, participate in the Accelerated Reading (AR) Program. For every book they read, they take a test. A passing grade on the test earns the student AR points toward their reading goals. Although the tests are helpful, Hall says they are just part of the equation.

"More important than testing, I think we really need to pay attention to each child’s reading needs. I think that interest in books is actually more important than a student’s reading level," added Hall. "We certainly have some great authors out there right now, like J.K. Rowling of the popular Harry Potter series."

Hall said she even has special books put aside for those students who claim they just don’t like to read. Close to Shore, a book about Great White Sharks, is one such novel.

"That book became so popular it was always checked out," Hall exclaimed. "I know just what to give them to get them excited about reading!"

Even if a popular title is checked out, it may be available to purchase using Books Rock Café debit cards. Just outside the entrance to the café, Hall has multiple books for sale. She is quick to point out, however, that the shop is a not-for-profit business. Money raised through debit card purchases goes right back into the running of the café, as well as for other AR rewards, books for the Library, and author visits.

"I truly hope some students who were turned off by reading will experience the joy of reading and carry it into adulthood!" said Hall. "Sometimes it just takes reading that first book and then you are hooked for life."

The neon "Open" sign in the window at Books Rock Café will soon be shut off for the day, but tomorrow Hall hopes to "hook" yet another eager group of students. Once again, they will gather in this special place for the chance to pretend they’re not in school but out in the "real world," or wherever their imaginations take them.

Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
Fax Number: 843-856-8555


Breaking News Alerts

To sign up for breaking news email alerts, Click on the email address below and put "email alerts" in the subject line:

Comment Here