Since 2010, The Learning Network has encouraged students to include The New York Times in their summer reading plans by way of a contest. The New York Times Summer Reading Contest kicked off this year with a webinar which included a discussion of ways to keep teenagers reading, writing, thinking, and learning on their own during the summer. English Department Chair Karen Gold P’11, ‘17 has assigned the summer reading contest in her junior classes for the past few years and she was featured on the webinar with Eric ’21, a participant from last year’s class.
To participate in the contest, students are invited to choose an article, photo, video, podcast, or graphic in The New York Times that sparked their interest and write a 300-word response explaining why. Judges in The New York Times newsroom pick and publish their favorite responses at the end of each week.
“I love this contest because it gives kids the opportunity to keep reading good non-fiction, along with the novels they are normally assigned to read over the summer. It also provides a weekly writing opportunity where they also practice critical thinking and build vocabulary,” said Gold.
From Gold’s experience, her students enjoy it and are surprised that they have so much choice. “I’m not telling them what to read--from cooking to sports to politics; whatever appeals to them.” Gold’s students also enjoy joining in the community of The New York Times summer reading contest. “They see their work published in The New York Times. Who doesn’t love that?”
The webinar also shared strategies to help students “find themselves and their interests in the news, to read actively and craft excellent short reader responses with inspiration from previous teen winners, and to write with voice and verve.”
Eric ‘21 said, “It opened my eyes to lots of things that I didn’t know about before. I began with topics like science fiction and space travel, but as the summer progressed I became more interested in politics. The contest sparked my interest in watching and reading the news. After the contest, I spent a lot more time reading about the current administration. Having the freedom to choose what I wanted to read was very enjoyable.”
From The New York Times’ perspective, they really appreciate learning what kids are interested in: politics, health and cooking, and there’s so much interest in social justice and human rights. “We are thrilled when kids push back--when they say I read this opinion piece and I totally disagreed,” said Katherine Schulten, editor, The New York Times Learning Network. “We love real engagement. Kids come at us directly sometimes and tell what’s missing with our reporting.”
Gold also appreciates how accessible this contest is for kids. “Any high school student can do this--the choices are endless. This contest instantly brings kids into a global community. They are literally engaging with kids and different opinions from around the world. And they all have choices. If kids write about something that’s interesting to them, I contend that they write better.”
Gold was also selected as a participant in The New York Times Teaching Project. She was one of the teachers selected nationwide for this highly selective program. She will work with the Learning Network throughout the year to help develop a curriculum that connects with the newspaper.