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The District 202 School Board is considering a proposal to add graphic novels to supplement the texts currently used by students who read below grade level.

“Graphic novels [once called comic books] have changed significantly and are being added to high school curricula,” reported Laura Cooper, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at the June 14 Board meeting.

“The role of graphic novels in engaging students in reading cannot be underestimated, … Reluctant readers, by the time they arrive in high school, believe that reading has little personal value and that it merely complicates ‘surviving school,’” said Dr. Cooper.

The proposed texts are “The Odyssey” (Marvel Illustrated), “Macbeth – the Graphic Novel (original text and quick text) and “Malcolm X” (a graphic biography).

“Kids really connected with the original text after they experience the graphic novel piece,” said Literacy Coordinator Regina Armour. Graphic novels “don’t really let the student go. …We’ve been able to watch kids instantly become engaged in the story,” she continued.

According to administrators, teachers will use graphic novels for four of the District’s reading intervention courses: Freshman Reading, and the three levels of Humanities Enriched courses.

The total cost of graphic novels will be about $2,500. The books will be used only in the classroom and not checked out to students.

The books will be used to “spark interest in reading, to provide access to works in the literary canon and to provide scaffolding to learn how to approach reading a classical text,” according to the proposal.

Although the readability level of the graphic novels is “difficult to assess … as they are not formatted in paragraphs … the average graphic novel is at the 4-6th grade reading level,” according to the materials request presented at the meeting.

Board member Martha Burns asked how the graphic novels would be used in the classroom.

Ms. Armour said the graphic novels would not be used in place of the required texts for the course, but rather as an aid to make the material more accessible.

“An old method was to show a movie and then read the text. This is kind of the same. … The neat thing about the graphic novels is that you can go back and forth. You can use it as a pre-reading tool, and students can refer back to it as well.”

Board member Deborah Graham said she had had her first introduction “to the classics” from “comic books” having been introduced to them by her brother, who she said was an avid comic book fan.

Ms. Graham said, “I am all for the use of graphic novels … This really is an exploding genre. Anything we can do to engage students and make reading more accessible to them is something we should do.”

Board member Gretchen Livingston asked how the books would be paid for, given an earlier administration presentation that had expressed concern about whether or not certain existing textbook requests could be funded.

The money for the materials would come from Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funds, said Dr. Cooper.

Board member Mark Metz echoed the support of the proposal, quoting Malcolm X, the subject of one of the graphic novels: “’By any means necessary,’”

The Board will vote on the proposal at their June 28 meeting.