STOW – The solution for a teen reading project was found in the childhood custom of reading aloud.
Every year the seventh graders in English language arts classes read a novel related to their science class about the influence of ecosystems and biodiversity to the main character’s life.
Teachers Kendra Jozsa, Christa Hiner and Pam Groom had to find a solution for students obtaining a book during the school shutdown.
"We thought of a variety of solutions to get the books in the students' hands during this extended absence from school, but none of those ideas were practical, so we figured it just wasn't going to happen this year," Groom said.
The teachers discussed options such as students picking the books up in the Kimpton Middle School lobby, dropping them off and mailing them, but each ran the risk of unintentionally transmitting COVID-19.
Jozsa shared her disappointment with her family, and her son, Kyle, volunteered to read the book aloud for the students.
"Kyle is very well known in the area as being a highly talented storyteller, so his mom ran the idea by our school's administrators, Mrs. Hiner, and me, and the offer was snapped up immediately," Groom said. "The result has been a fabulous solution to what would otherwise be another disconnect from normalcy."
The book is "California Blue" by David Klass. Teenager John Rodgers and his dying father find themselves on opposite sides of an environmental battlefield. At issue is a new species of blue butterflies that John discovers on a jog through land owned by the lumber mill that employs his father and most of his town.
"Kyle spent time reading through the book silently to himself first to get the gist of the story and to get a feel for the characters' moods and personalities," Groom said. "Then he recorded himself, one chapter at a time, so he spent a considerable amount of time putting this together for us."
Kyle, 31, and graduate of Stow-Munroe Falls High School in 2007, said he wasn’t familiar with "California Blue" until reading it for the class.
John discovers a new butterfly but the story is a lot about family, community and choices, Kyle said.
"Which side are you on? Do you want to be the hero who saves the community or the hero who saves the environment?" he said.
Kyle graduated from the University of Mount Union after studying political science and pre-law but a long walk changed the course of his career.
In 2013 he and his partner hiked the Appalachian Trail and collected a variety of local stories.
"When we returned, I trained and learned the process of performance storytelling," he said.
They started a theater company called Wandering Aesthetics in Akron where he was able to record the 19 chapters in the book. Each one is uploaded to Google Classroom.
Kyle said the most difficult part of reading the book is being consistent with the characters and differentiating them.
"The fun part is being in the head of all these different characters," he said.
The teachers were thankful for all the work Kyle did.
"He exemplifies what it means to help out during a time that's been anything but normal," Groom said. "Everywhere you look, there is a reminder that ‘we're In this together,’ and Kyle Jozsa stepped up to that call to action, and his contribution to our school has made this unusual circumstance a little easier."
Teacher Christa Hiner agreed.
"As another teacher involved in this, I was elated with Kyle's offer," Hiner said. "Not only did he do an outstanding job capturing the essence of the novel through his reading, but he met with the three of us online and showed us through an image of his screen exactly how to upload and assign it in Google Classroom. I left that meeting feeling prepared and elated over the sharing of this novel with our students."
Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at email@example.com