Cicely Lewis | Movers & Shakers 2019 – Change Agents

A colleague’s suggestion transformed Cicely Lewis from a language arts and Spanish teacher into a librarian at Georgia’s Meadowcreek High School. The woman remarked that students who never checked out books were rushing to read them after talking to Lewis, so she should be the school librarian. “I thought, ‘This is the perfect job for me: I love working with teens, reading, and promoting books,’ ” says Lewis. Two years after Lewis spoke to the principal, the position of school librarian opened up and she got the job.

Cicely Lewis

CURRENT POSITION

Educator/Library Media Specialist, Meadowcreek High School, Norcross, GA

DEGREE

School Library Media Certification, Georgia Southern University, 2017; M.Ed. English Education, Mississippi College, 2005

HONORS

Atlanta Journal Constitution Top Teacher award, 2018; Dollar General/YALSA Teen Read Week grant recipient, 2018

BACKSTORY

“I grew up in poverty in a single-parent home, and my father was imprisoned for my entire childhood. Books were my refuge. I want to share this joy with my students because many of them are suffering.”

FOLLOW

@cicelythegreat; readwokelibrarian (Facebook); readwoke_librarian (Instagram); cicelythegreat.wordpress.com

Photo by Messiah Sade Stills, Meadowcreek High School

MS_logo_300x81

Wake-Up Call

A colleague’s suggestion transformed Cicely Lewis from a language arts and Spanish teacher into a librarian at Georgia’s Meadowcreek High School. The woman remarked that students who never checked out books were rushing to read them after talking to Lewis, so she should be the school librarian. “I thought, ‘This is the perfect job for me: I love working with teens, reading, and promoting books,’ ” says Lewis. Two years after Lewis spoke to the principal, the position of school librarian opened up and she got the job.

Lewis’s most successful effort to get teens to read has been the Read Woke challenge. Fueled by events such as the shooting of black teens by police and harsh immigration policies, Lewis started Read Woke in September 2017. She chose books that challenge the status quo and give voice to the disenfranchised, including Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, Nic Stone’s Dear Martin, and Erika L. Sánchez’s I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, and put them on a list. Kids could pick four to read and discuss for a chance to win T-shirts and free books.

“As [a] school librarian, I vowed to make sure that my students had access to information about diverse groups. In addition, I wanted to make sure that they could see themselves in the literature,” Lewis explains. For both reasons, Read Woke touched a nerve among Meadowcreek’s students, 70 percent of whom are Latinx. Not only did circulation increase from 2,340 checkouts to 2,817, but faculty circulation also shot up more than 50 percent. Kids who had never finished a book before were tearing through the list and coming back for more.

The students also gained understanding of others’ lives. During a Read Woke event, Lewis overheard a member of the basketball team say, “Wow, it must be really hard to have to go through life like this!” after reading Jazz Jennings’s Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen. “I knew that this young man would be a…more tolerant person toward the LGBTQ community after reading Jazz’s story,” says Lewis. “This is the power of Read Woke. It’s not only a reading challenge, it’s a movement—a way to create social justice warriors who are going to make the world a better place.”

The movement has taken off beyond Meadowcreek: Read Woke displays and lists have appeared worldwide.

Next, Lewis wants to start a Write Woke challenge. “My students have so many powerful stories to tell and unique experiences to share. I have told them, ‘If you can’t find yourself in any books, there’s an opportunity for you to Write Woke.’ ”

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