The Newbery Awards Program, started by Mrs. Julie Stretz, encourages Grade 3 students to read more books that have won a Newbery Medal by celebrating their reading milestones. The Newbery Awards began as a small project in the early 2000s that Mrs. Stretz brought from her days teaching in Albuquerque, aimed at diversifying what students read. After bringing it into her classroom at Graland, it quickly became a thriving tradition of Grade 3 education. “When students come into third grade, I want them to branch out,” Mrs. Stretz said. “What’s really cool is that this introduces them to all different kinds of reading.”
When a student reads their first five Newbery books, they become official members of The Newbery Club. “We give them a certificate and we put their name on the bulletin board,” Mrs. Stretz said. For every five books a student reads after that, they answer a few questions about the books they read, present their favorite to the class, and get a small gift to celebrate. Each milestone is different: for 10 books, you get a pencil; for 15, you get a bookmark; and for 20, you get a drawstring backpack. If a student reaches 25 Newbery books, their teacher holds a ceremony to officially induct them into the Newbery Hall of Fame and gifts them with a personalized copy of their all-time favorite Newbery Book. “They are just on fire,” Mrs. Stretz said. “They love reading new books. I can’t get over it.”
For Mrs. Stretz, the success of the program is not defined by the quantity of books students read; instead, it’s how students have been getting excited about reading and have explored beyond their comfort zones to read different genres. “They’re excited to share these books,” Mrs. Stretz said. “And they’re learning that they can enjoy fantasy books, as well as historical fiction like Sarah, Plain and Tall, which is about a girl who moves West.” Ultimately, Mrs. Stretz hopes that her students will take their newfound love of reading with them throughout their lives. “The biggest hope is that they’ll continue to expand the types of reading they’ll do,” Mrs. Stretz said. “After doing this, they won’t be intimidated by chapter books.”
As she approaches retirement at the end of this year, Mrs. Stretz’s contributions to Graland are numerous, and the Newbery Awards are just one piece of a tapestry she has woven throughout her years here. “I love teaching,” Mrs. Stretz said. “And I love this school so much. There are so many good people, and the parents know we’re here because we care about their children.”
Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.