LHJH students pose with books they read in the 2018-19 school year. (Photo courtesy of LHJH Project LIT Community)

Lake Highlands Junior High has joined a growing national movement to encourage students to read more and discuss hard topics by providing them with culturally relevant novels.

Project LIT Community was started by Nashville English teacher Jarred Amato and his class at Maplewood High School in 2016. He noticed students weren’t reading on their own and that the curriculum literature provided by the school wasn’t representative of the community. Amato created the first club to provide students with easier access to relevant books.

The movement soon caught fire on social media. Now, there are more than 850 chapters across 48 states, according to the nonprofit.

“We just want kids to read for the sake of reading,” said Barbara Hahn, LHJH seventh grade English teacher and Project LIT chapter organizer.

Hahn said seventh grade teachers at LHJH have worked to develop a culture of reading at the school, requiring students to read a book of their choosing for 15 minutes everyday. But the teachers weren’t sure if that habit continued once the students progressed to higher grades.

The goal of LHJH’s chapter is to hold monthly or quarterly book club meetings, Hahn said. The meetings would include student-led discussions about the book and the topics it covers. The original Nashville chapter selects the book of the month, which usually has been published since 2000.

There are three levels of books that Project LIT Community chapters can read: novels, young adult novels and middle grade novels.

“These kids are developing the skills of being a leader and talking about a book,” she said of the potential. “That’s really a lost art.”

Hahn said the book club wouldn’t be limited to students. Parents and other community members would be encouraged to join as well. The book club, she said, could open up conversations about the socioeconomic status of the Lake Highlands community along with other cultural issues that are hard to talk about.

For now, though, Hahn’s starting small.

The LHJH chapter has hosted one June meeting at Audelia Road library and plans to hold three more this summer: June 18, July 9 and July 18. All meetings begin at 10:30 a.m. and run until noon at the library.

These summer meetings will allow chapter organizers to understand the interest the community has in this project, Hahn said. Gauging the outcome of these summer meetings, chapter organizers will be estimate how many students are interested and how many books to get each month. That includes the logistics of getting books to students who might not be able to afford to buy one.

So far, Hahn said a few moms have emailed her in support of the chapter. And another teacher shared information with the PTA presidents. She’s been blown away by the support already received and hopes it will pick up steam once the school year begins again.

“My hope is that I’m just starting small,” Hahn said. “That it would grow into something that these kids would develop leadership skills and that it carries over in high school. That they could start a chapter at the high school.”

To learn more about the LHJH chapter of Project LIT Community visit the group’s website or follow the group on Twitter at @LHJH_LITcomm.