Cape High's first Literacy Festival a rousing success

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On Thursday, March 16, Cape Coral High School went all out to celebrate the love of books and importance of reading with their students.

Devoting the day to the initiative, the school brought in 15 published authors, who spent the morning visiting classrooms, giving students a unique perspective on the world of the written word.

Authors from across the state and representing a broad range of genres gave students insight on the process involved in taking an idea, putting it in story form, writing the story, and finally having it published, "It was a great experience for the kids. The students were very receptive and very involved. They asked great questions and had great conversations with the authors," says substitute teacher Jim Colvin, whose class was one of those chosen for the event.

Following the classroom sessions, the authors, along with the entire student body and faculty traveled to the football field where the school held its inaugural Cape Literacy Festival.

For the festival, the tables were scattered across the field with an author at each, signing books for the students as they made their way around the festival, "This makes it real for the students," said participating author Amy Christine Parker. "I never met authors growing up. It brings it home to the kids and shows them there are people making a living at this."

Parker writes young adult contemporary thrillers and has released three books; Smash & Grab, Gated, and Astray through Random House Publishing.

As part of her efforts to reach students and share her experiences, Parker has been participating in school reading festivals since 2013 and says she typically does about ten festivals a year around the state with other authors, "We are part of a group of authors who travel together. We started as a group of three now we are up to six including editors and publishers along with authors."

In addition to the authors participating in the festival, students also had the opportunity to enjoy a plethora of games along the track hosted by nearly a dozen of the school's clubs. There were also demonstrations by the Cape Coral Police Department's K-9 unit and a dunk tank to round out the event.

The idea for the festival came from Jamie Ayres, a first-year English teacher at Cape High.

Ayres, also a published author of three books, has been participating in festivals for the last four years, including the annual festival held at Riverdale High School.

When she found out that Riverdale would not be hosting the festival this school year, she says she felt it would be a perfect opportunity for her new school to fill the gap, "I jumped at the chance to do something like that over here at Cape High."

Ayres says the Literacy Festival is a creative way to put books in front of students, and engage them in the art of reading, which in turn, helps develop the students into productive members of society as an adult, "Literacy is tied to graduation rates, to incarceration rates. It really paints a picture of whether or not a student is going to become a successful adult."

After getting the support of her fellow teachers, Ayres created a committee and submitted requests for grants for the event. The submissions were successful with the school receiving $8,000 in grants. The school's student government organizations also raised another $500 for the event. Raising nearly $10,000, Ayres and the committee were able to purchase over 900 books that were distributed to the students for free during the festival.

With the money and support behind her, Ayres used connections she established as an author to recruit fellow writers to participate in the festival, "Getting authors is usually the biggest obstacle for these types of events. We were lucky and received a great response from the authors we contacted."

Ayres also says the planning committee was selective with the authors they asked to participate in the event, "A lot of times, unfortunately, the books students are forced to read in school doesn’t appeal to them. We wanted to bring some cool themes and a diverse collection of young novels for them to pick from. No two books are the same. We selected authors from a lot of different backgrounds to appeal to as many students as we possibly could."

The idea of diversity seemed to work well, as students bounced from table to table during the festival soaking in every word the various authors offered. Interacting with the authors, and learning their craft was something students who participated would not soon forget, "It was a fun experience. I have never done something like this before. I learned a lot during the day," says sophomore Daimarelys Gonzalez, who also served as a student liaison for an author during the day, "It was really interesting, walking around with the author and hear her talk to the classes. I learned a lot about the writing process."

It was those types of experiences like Gonzalez's, that as the day came to a close, Ayres says she hopes will be the lasting impact made by the school's first Literacy Festival, "This shows how meeting an author really forms a connection with students, and could benefit them in many ways as they grow into adulthood."