Books, those seemingly harmless rectangular objects that can open a window into other worlds, are viewed as potential weapons at some juvenile lockups. Meaning that the young inmates inside may be permitted to read only during prescribed class time, and rarely in their cells at night.
That seemed counterproductive to David Domenici, who runs a nonprofit dedicated to encouraging more creativity in education at youth camps and prisons. So he pitched Scholastic on the idea of a nationwide read-a-thon, hoping that a bit of competition would jump-start the notion of reading for pleasure among kids often considered unreachable.
The result is Unbound, now in its third year. Last month, Domenici and his team at the national Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings counted more than 2,900 students vying for top-reader honors at 70 sites, including Naselle Youth Camp, a medium-security lockup in Pacific County.
Twenty-three students at Naselle, most of them ninth-grade boys, checked out 248 novels during February, including “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen and Nicholas Sparks’ “The Longest Ride.”
The only problem was keeping up with demand.
“I saw students with two or three books in hand — they just read and read and read,” said Gary Flood, principal of the school. “It’s near panic sometimes when the library is closed.”
Over four weeks the number of total minutes devoted to reading at Naselle skyrocketed, starting at 544, and ending with more than 26 hours spent burrowing into novels.
“That, to me, is the definition of success,” said Kat Crawford, director of technology solutions at CEEAS.