Follett Challenge: Winning Stories

So often, the stories you hear about education are riddled with news about funding crises, achievement gaps, and failing schools.

But those are the stories that make the news. And those are the stories Follett Challenge is trying to change.

by Britten Follett

by Britten Follett

Follett Challenge is proof, while true innovation is constantly evolving, educators today don’t need to start their stories from scratch. The groundwork has been laid by our winning schools: The programs have been created. They’ve been measured. They’ve been tested. They’ve won.

In the inaugural Follett Challenge, through its winning arts integration program, Ocoee Elementary School in Florida taught us how its librarian, Isabel Chipungu, led the charge to connect the media center with classes like art and music by weaving curated content into the arts curriculum.

2013 grand prize winner, Maplewood Richmond Heights, told a story about transformation. It evolved from imminent state takeover to a destination district for students in St. Louis, Missouri through its service learning program. In this small but mighty district, elementary students learn about biology through the chicken farm outside their classrooms. High school students learn statistics by counting the number of times a bee pollinates the flowers in the garden. The food pantry on campus, run completely by students, connects the district with the community by ensuring no students’ family goes hungry.

The Grand Prize-winning school for 2012 -2013, Maplewood Richmond Heights, St. Louis, MO

The Grand Prize-winning school for 2012 -2013, Maplewood Richmond Heights, St. Louis, MO

In September, the Follett team spent the day shooting a video case study at Belleville West High School, the 2014 grand prize winner. What’s remarkable about this school is its winning program begins with the power of story. While simple by design, it took guts and leaders who were willing to take a risk.
If you walk through the halls of Belleville West, you’ll find students sitting on the ground by their lockers reading the novel of their choice. You’ll find football players comparing notes on the latest Geoff Herbach book. You’ll find teachers, scrambling to finish their lessons so they can make sure their students get 30 minutes of pleasure reading time.

Four years ago, the English department launched the 1,000,000 reading challenge. Led by the department chair, librarian and assistant principal, teachers had administrative approval to spend valuable classroom time allowing students to read for fun. As a result of this program, the class of 2015 will have read more than 4,000,000 pages by the time it graduates and improved its test scores by 40%.

The celebration at Belleville West, the Grand Prize winner for 2013-2014.

The celebration at Belleville West, the Grand Prize winner for 2013-2014.

The power of a story. It doesn’t take expensive technology. It doesn’t take an unlimited education budget. In its simplest form, it takes innovation. Just as the stories in those books empower Belleville students to believe they can achieve, Belleville’s story can empower any school willing to take a chance.

We know there are so many more stories just waiting to be uncovered in our future winning districts. So don’t be afraid to share yours. Visit and begin your entry today for a chance to win your share of $200,000 and an opportunity to tell your winning story.

6-Oct-14 2014-2015 Follett Challenge Applications Open
9-Jan-15 Follett Challenge Entries Close
19-Jan-15 Video Voting Opens
30-Jan-15 Video Voting Closes
13-Feb-15 Semi-Finalist Announced
30-April-15 Grand Prize Winner Announced on or before
Back to School-16 Winning Celebration

What are you waiting for?

What are you waiting for?



by Teresa Fulk, Wayland Union Schools

Those three words wrap up what the Follett Challenge process has done for the Media Program at Wayland Union Schools!

The fun started in January when we started thinking about what our district would submit to the Follett Challenge. In fall of 2013 we implemented a new Media Program and have been really proud of how it has been received by students. Instead of visiting the library to check out books and listen to a story, students in grades K-5 now visit the school library twice a week, once to check out books and attend a class on Information Literacy. Topics for the class range from learning about different types of books, learning research skills, and practicing Internet safety.

Our Media and Technology Specialist for grades 5-8, Kelly Boston, headed up the project. Kelly worked collaboratively with students, teachers, and administrators to create the submission video which highlighted the new program and illustrated its impact on our school and district. Creating the video was very rewarding, as it provided us with an advertising tool to share with parents, faculty, school board members, and the community as we promoted the new program. It also allowed us to share the impact that it is having on students and the ways it is shaping their future.

Follett Challenge winnings arrive!

Follett Challenge winnings arrive!

When voting began in March, the excitement really ramped up. Students, staff, the community, our area businesses and public library, as well as family and friends of students and staff really worked together to spread the word about the Follett Challenge, helping us earn votes and spreading awareness of our program far and wide. That in and of itself has been so positive as it reinforces the need for students to learn these skills to prepare them for college and careers. In a time when school districts are cutting library and media programs and resources, it has definitely been a blessing to be able to add to and support our program.

We were ecstatic to finish in the Top Ten and be awarded $5,000 for our program . . . but were elated to be named as a semi-finalist and awarded $30,000 on top of that! Winning the $35,000 is allowing us to add so many resources to our district libraries; without the Follett Challenge, it would have taken several years to add the same resources. We are investing a substantial portion of the award funds into eBooks and are promoting summer reading for our students—an online program parents love even though our school doors are closed for the summer. We are also investing in print resources and updating our collection.

Additionally, we utilized Follett’s services and were able to conduct collection analyses at each of our sites and determine where we needed to enhance our collection. The Follett Challenge will significantly decrease the average age of materials at each of our sites.

The Follett Challenge has done so much for Wayland Union Schools, in fulfilling our need for materials and helping us increase awareness of an awesome program.

Our first shipment of books from Follett arrived last week, click the link below to watch the three-day unpacking process!


Thank you, Follett!


Teresa Fulk, Wayland Union Schools

Teresa Fulk, Wayland Union Schools

Dynamic Math Connections: A program that enhances mathematics skills and builds deep understanding

by Matthew Cecconi, Dynamic Math Teacher, Grades 7/8 — Thomas Jefferson Middle School
Fair Lawn Public Schools, NJ


It was such an honor to be a finalist in the Follett Challenge for our Dynamic Math Connections program!

Fair Lawn Public Schools’ Dynamic Math Connections is an engaging program that immerses students in cross-curricular applications of mathematics and shows them how it is used in the real world. The half-year course focuses on project-based learning through the use of various technology, hands-on projects and manipulatives.

Fair Lawn students work with Zomes, as well as modeling their tower on a 3D “CAD” (Computer Aided Design) program.

Fair Lawn students work with Zomes as well as modeling their tower on a 3D “CAD” (Computer Aided Design) program.

Students get to choose what they want to investigate and then analyze data from a topic that truly interests them—such as animation, video gaming and more.

We, as a department, have put in so much work to ensure that the Dynamic Math Connections program is not only enjoyable for our students, but also successful in enriching their mathematical reasoning and understanding.

Students use textbooks and notebooks to demonstrate how much weight their tower can withstand.

Students use textbooks and notebooks to demonstrate how much weight their tower can withstand.

We have had teachers and administrators from other districts visit our classrooms to view the Dynamic Math program in the hopes of adopting a similar program in their own schools. Dynamic Math has been very successful and we believe schools everywhere could benefit from seeing what it has to offer students. We hope being recognized on a national level will accomplish the same outcome, but on a much larger scale.

Thank you to everyone at Follett for helping us showcase our Dynamic Math Connections program. We are so excited to be able to enhance our students’ learning with the winnings from the Follett Challenge. We have already begun looking into software, hardware, and more hands-on manipulatives to help us advance our curriculum.


What the Kids at A.P. Terhune Elementary Had to Say About Winning the Follett Challenge

by Beth DeMayo, Fourth Grade Teacher

A.P. Terhune Elementary School, Wayne, NJ, a semifinalist and the People’s Choice winner in the 2014 Follett Challenge

“It means so much to me that my school can have e-books to read over the summer, to read in school, and even in media class. Our school is filled with excellence and winning the Follett Challenge really shows our school has pride, confidence, and luck!”–Kayla S

On April 16th, we all bustled into the Media Center, overflowing with excitement, to watch the live announcement for the winners of the Follett Challenge. You could feel the excitement in the air. “It felt like New Year’s Eve as we watched the seconds count down,” said Beth DeMayo.

terhune beth maggie Terhune drums photographing cover Terhune Elementary 1 Everyone cheered as soon as they saw we had won…but then we were shocked! We realized not only had we won the People’s Choice, but we were also Semifinalist in the Elementary division! This meant we had won a total of $35,000 in Follett products and services! We were astonished.

To realize all of our hard-work and effort brought our school such success was very touching. “We could never have done this without the help and support of the entire Wayne community,” added Margarita Carruthers, Library Media Specialist.

With our very generous prize, we are looking forward to adding titles to our general collection, purchasing new series, and enhancing our Playaway selection. Additionally, we hope to build up the individual classroom libraries, create Read-At-Home backpacks, and purchase books for next year’s author visit. We cannot thank Follett enough for its generosity and support!

Quotes from some of the other students:

“Winning proves anything is possible when you put your mind to it.”–Jayden R.

“Winning the Follett Challenge means so much to me. It means that we can get more e-books and books from Follett. I am grateful that we won for our school. I cannot thank Ms. DeMayo and Mrs. Carruthers enough for our wonderful victory at the Follett Challenge.”–Kaylyn L.

 “Winning is the best thing in forever! Thank you!”–Anardi C.

 “It means a lot! We worked so hard. Thanks!” –Gianna C.

“Winning this contest is a dream come true because when you put your mind to winning anything can happen!” –Rocco P.

 “Winning is great if you do it with your friends!”–Chelsea L.

“Winning the Follett Challenge means so much because we worked so hard!”–Joseph R.

 “Winning was so cool!”–Josh B.

“Winning means a lot to us! Thank you!”–Lindsay C.

“Winning means we tried our best and everyone at A.P.T. is so happy!”–Bryn O.

 “It means so much to our school! Thank you so much.” –Natalie S.

 “Winning the Follett Challenge is a dream come true!”–Zaymien O.

 “It means a lot to win the Follett Challenge because we can choose books for our school!”–Trevor M.

 “Winning means everything to my school because we get new books!” –Joseph Y.

 “It means a lot to us to be chosen as the top Elementary School because it means we’re the best!” –Talia B.

 “Winning earned us books and stuff to learn with!”–Naomi F.

The Million Page Challenge: How One High School Got Kids Reading for Fun

This article appeared  on June 12, 2014 on The Cornerstone for Teachers, by Angela Watson.

Remember the Follett Challenge I featured here back in January? John Lodle is chair of the English department at the winning school, Belleville West High School in Illinois, where he has taught for the past 20 years. In today’s post, he’s kindly taken time to share the initiative that earned them the grand prize. The faculty at Belleville worked together to create a program that truly created a “community of readers.” Their accomplishments are not only impressive, but replicable at other schools, too. Here’s what inspired them to create The Million Page Challenge and how they pulled it off.

John Lodle

John Lodle











Recently, a widely-published report by Common Sense Media Group chronicled the decline of pleasure reading among our nation’s teens. According to the group’s research, 45% of 17-year-olds say that they “never” or “hardly ever” read by choice.

During the same week the report was published, the staff and students at Belleville West High School—located in southwestern Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis—learned we were the grand-prize winner of the third annual Follett Challenge.

What’s the connection between these two pieces of information? The project we entered in this year’s Follett Challenge—our Community of Readers program—addresses the importance of pleasure reading for high school students.

Belleville West High School started the Community of Readers program four years ago.  At that time, members of the English department were disturbed by two trends. First, despite several years of programs aimed at improving student achievement on standardized tests, we watched the gradual erosion of our students’ scores on the ACT and the PSAE (the annual assessment tool in the state of Illinois). Second, we noticed many of our students were unlikely to consider reading as a leisure activity; they lacked the passion for reading that was so much a part of our lives as English teachers.

Intuitively, we knew that students who enjoyed reading chose to read more often. We knew that students who read more became better readers. We knew that students who were better readers scored better on standardized assessments. But how could we prove what we knew to be true in our hearts? And how could we create a program that would help our students become more passionate and successful readers?

In our quest to develop such a program, three books were essential, and I enthusiastically recommend them to any teacher or school interested in creating life-long readers:

  1. Readicide, by high school teacher Kelly Gallagher, examines the importance of balancing assigned reading with pleasure reading.
  2. The Book Whisperer, by middle school teacher Donalyn Miller, describes a classroom in which students are responsible for selecting almost everything they read.
  3. The Power of Reading, by noted researcher Stephen D. Krashen, combines hard evidence on the importance of pleasure reading with suggestions for effective reading classrooms.

Inspired by the information from these authors, determined we needed to try something new, and supported by administrators who value reading, we launched our Community of Readers program in the fall of 2010.

The centerpiece of our program in that first year was the Million Page Challenge. The English department challenged that year’s freshman class (a class of approximately 600 students) to read one million pages of pleasure reading during the course of the school year. That first group of students far surpassed our expectations, reading more than 1.4 million pages in eight months. So we continued the Million Page Challenge each year, creating some competition between classes as a new group of students joined our community each fall.

The Challenge’s inaugural group of students just graduated a few weeks ago, and they finished high school with almost five million pages of pleasure reading among them.

Belleville West 2

When we started the Million Page Challenge, we understood we couldn’t expect our students to become avid pleasure readers without offering them the necessary support. Building on the suggestions of Krashen, Gallagher, and Miller, our department incorporated three key elements in our program: time, choice, access.

If we want our students to see value in pleasure reading, the way we structure our classes must suggest its importance. Providing students with time in class to read sends a strong message about the significance of pleasure reading. Despite some initial concerns about carving out class time to read, members of the department can attest they haven’t had to make any significant reduction in the content or skills covered in their classes. By finding just a little time for independent reading at the start or conclusion of class each day, we can give students almost an hour each week to spend with books they want to read for pleasure.

Our formal curriculum still requires students to read and study from the canon: To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, Night, Julius Caesar, The Great Gatsby, and The Catcher in the Rye are still staples in our newly-designed CCSS curriculum. But the pleasure reading program allows students some choice in their reading materials. When we allow students to choose their own books—Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Eleanor & Park, Every Day, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Crank, Ender’s Game, Deadline—they become eager, engaged, passionate readers.

Time and choice are meaningless, though, without student access to high-interest books.  In an age of budget reductions for school libraries, Belleville West is fortunate to have two librarians who are attuned to the latest and greatest in young adult literature. Teachers make time for regular trips to the library with their classes, and every teacher in the department maintains a classroom library so that good books are never more than a few feet away.

I should also stress the importance of teachers as reading role models. As teachers, we can provide time, choice, and access to our students, but our own behavior speaks volumes about the importance of reading.  (Yes, pun intended.) At Belleville West, teachers display signs outside their classroom doors to share their current reading. We participate in book club meetings with our students. We talk in class—formally and informally—about what we’re reading, and we ask our students about the books they’re reading. When we give our students time to read for pleasure in class, we read for pleasure along with them. (I know that can be tough when stacks of essays are piled on the desk, but the example we set is important!)

As we end our fourth year of the program, Belleville West High School has truly become a Community of Readers. Walk through our halls before school, and you’ll observe students sitting against their lockers immersed in good books. Stroll past the library in the morning, and you’ll see a line of students waiting for the doors to open. Wander into the cafeteria during lunch, and you’ll hear students talking about the books they’re reading for pleasure. Look into a classroom after a test or quiz, and you’ll notice students voluntarily pulling books from their backpacks to read. Reading has become an integral part of the culture of our school.

Belleville West 4 student asks author questionEach year, the members of the English department—with the support of the library, the administration, and the school’s Strategic Reading Committee—have worked to improve and expand the program. Teachers in the social studies department devoted a summer workshop to Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide and now incorporate some of his ideas in their classes. The athletic department partners with us for the “One Book, One Team” program; this summer, players and coaches from the varsity football team are reading Geoff Herbach’s novel Stupid Fast in preparation for a Skype visit with the author. High school students visit local grade schools to read to young students and to share books with them. Each spring, the English department and the library hold a reading celebration day, highlighted by a visit with a favorite author.

Have our students embraced reading for pleasure? Definitely. Based on start-of-year and end-of-year surveys from our freshmen, we know our students read more for pleasure and enjoy reading more than they did before starting high school. Has all of this reading had any effect on test scores? We’d like to think so. The first group of students participating in our Community of Readers program showed double-digit gains on standardized state tests when compared to students in the previous three years.

When we learned our program was the grand-prize winner of this year’s Follett Challenge, we felt great pride and validation for our work. Even before the announcement of the winning entries, we were happy this contest had provided us with a forum to share our program with other schools throughout the country. (Since winning the contest, we’ve been thrilled to field calls and emails from other schools interested in developing their own life-long readers.)

This contest has provided us with a platform to share the importance of pleasure reading and to share the ways in which we have created a culture of reading at Belleville West High School. With the generous prize money provided by Follett, we look forward to expanding the collection of high-interest books in our school library, to sharing the program with our sister high school in our school district, and to building a collection of e-books in our library. We’re especially excited about the ability to increase the number of electronic books in our collection, as this represents a new way to keep our students connected to books during the summer months, a time when they don’t always have access to physical libraries.

As teachers, librarians, and administrators, we should all be passionate about our own reading. If we can ignite that same passion in our students, we shouldn’t have to see any more reports on the demise of reading

A Challenge, a Champion, and a Legacy Leader

Finding a Way to Promote Libraries and Learning

Written and submitted by Amy Ransom


(Pictured left to right: Amy Ransom, Allie Schutt, Daymara Haskins, Shelby Willis)

It’s that time of year: when school systems announce their “Teachers of the Year,” recognizing top-notch teaching and educators who are making a difference.

In conjunction with this, I have my own award I would like to announce: “Legacy Leader.” There are many people who come to mind for each field of study, but I would like to nominate someone in a lesser known discipline… a school librarian. Many educators organize and instruct, and many influence and encourage, but a librarian is the heart and soul of the school and we need to give them more than a pat on the back.

I recently visited Jeannette Walter, a librarian at Eisenhower Middle/High School in rural, Northwestern Pennsylvania. After talking with her, several staff members, and three spectacular students, I clearly understood her prominent role which would sweep any competition as a clear winner of the “Legacy Leader” award. Walter’s journey started as a young girl visiting the Bookmobile where her love of reading, books, and library services was first cultivated. The importance of learning and education instilled in her upbringing led her to pioneer curriculum and programming for libraries in her school district.

During renovations and restructuring of the district’s buildings, the district’s leadership team was in the process of closing the library. However, Walter was a voice opposed to this decision.  She remained strong, as a champion for the students and staff. And without her tenacity, knowledge and understanding that a school library has a magnitude of influence on learning and the community, a group of grades K-4 students would currently be residing in a school without a library. Her perseverance for the primary wing’s library will enable generations of children to discover the wonder of books and the bounty of free resources that a library supplies. It offers students and staff at the Middle/High School a portal to the world with walls that now extend far beyond the patchwork of fields adjacent to the school.

Libraries need to change in order to accommodate 21st century learning and to remain integrated in the cruxes of learning.  “Libraries of the past are slowly disappearing.  I think many people have a view of the library as a grocery store and the librarian as the clerk.  People come pick things off the shelf and I check them out,” Walter explains. “Libraries of the future are much more dynamic than that. My library is much more like a kitchen.  I have all of the ingredients, tools and recipes for students to discover, learn, and pull resources together to create amazing projects.  I teach students how to be life-long learners, creators, dreamers, inventors and discoverers.”

The $200,000 Follett Challenge annually provides a forum for K-12 schools to share inspiring stories of how their innovative programs are preparing students for the demands of the 21st century. When Walter heard about it, she knew her school had to enter. She enlisted the help of three students to create a video for submission.  Allie Schutt (senior), Daymara Haskins (junior), and Shelby Willis (sophomore) were excited for the opportunity to help Walter and give back to their school. The video reflected the mission and importance of the library as it is accurately named, “The Hub.”

Eisenhower Middle/High Schools went on to be one of the ten People’s Choice winners of the 2014 Follett Challenge for their video submission, bringing home $5,000 in Follett products and services.  “This was a big win for our little school,” said Haskins, “It has been a great inspiration and shows us the sky’s the limit.”

Teachers, staff and students supported the Follett Challenge submission by voting and posting the video on their social media accounts and encouraging people to vote.  “It is really cool to know we had as much support as we did throughout the whole challenge, which led us to winning,” said Willis about the involvement of the school.  “I think it will promote better education for the future students.  I also hope it will inspire other students to enter challenges because it shows that students from such a small school can achieve great things. “

Walter is proud of the kids at her school, stating, “We have really good kids here; we hold the bar high and they are exceeding our expectations.”  When asked why they have such great kids, she simply stated, “The passion, the work ethic…it comes from their homes; their families.”

Looking around the building you see partially finished classrooms and construction equipment surrounding the walls and halls, but that doesn’t stop the students. Regardless of this renovation, and somewhat chaotic state, these students are organized, engaged, and encouraged.  They are the heart and soul of their school and their legacy will remain long after the repairs are complete.  Schutt captures this feeling, stating, “This has been a great period of time in my life. The winnings will benefit not only us but those that use our library in the future.”

Amy Ransom is librarian/media specialist at Massaponax High School, Spotsylvania County Schools in Spotsylvania, Virginia. To learn more about Follett visit or join the discussion at FollettCommunity.

Reminiscing: 2013 Follett Challenge Grand-Prize Winner

While we wait in anticipation for the announcement of the 2014 Follett Challenge Grand-Prize Winner, let’s go back and reminisce a bit.  In 2013, Palo Alto Unified School District won in the Follett Challenge.  

Gunn Library was rewarded for its creativity and collaboration with $60,000 in Follett products and services.  In the spirit of collaboration, Gunn Library shared half of its winnings with the District’s three middle schools, each receiving $10,000 to utilize.

You can learn the whole story by watching the award video on or by clicking here.

Stay tuned to for the announcement of the 2014 Follett Challenge grand-prize winner on May 16.  The winner will be chosen from the four semifinalists:

  • Wayland Union Schools, Wayland, MI (Magnet/Parochial/K12 category winner)
  • Albert P. Terhune Elementary School, Wayne, NJ (Elementary school category winner)
  • Memorial Middle School and Thomas Jefferson Middle School, Fair Lawn, NJ (Middle school category winner)
  • Belleville West High School, Belleville, IL (High school category winner)