Book Club Hosts Survival Skills Workshop

Book Club Hosts Survival Skills Workshop

By: Patty Houlihan, Daily Southtown
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Surviving high school doesn’t typically involve starting small fires and using them to warm up on a cold, late winter afternoon in a courtyard outside the school building.

But fire building was only one of the survival skills students at Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills would learn that day. They were in book club, and things were just starting to get interesting.

“My family doesn’t usually do nature-y things,” said Johnae Hilson, an 18-year-old senior from Country Club Hills. “If we get together, we usually stay inside and play a video game.”

Instead, the students were outside setting fires on school grounds as part of a project to boost reading. The sessions were intended to grab students’ interest by teaching them the kind of wilderness skills characters need to survive in “Inhuman,” a dystopian young adult novel by Kat Falls. The idea is to promote the topic and draw them into reading the book.

The effort is part of 4 in 4 Book Club, which Bremen High School District 228 introduced three years ago to bring books to life and help teenagers improve their reading skills at Bremen, Hillcrest, Oak Forest and Tinley Park high schools. Librarians agreed on four titles that will rotate through the each of the schools over four years.

About 30 copies of “Inhuman” arrived on the shelves at Hillcrest in the fall and word went out to students via email. In January, librarians began promoting the book in earnest. They hope to have a robust book club discussion on April 15, complete with pizza.

Librarian Lisa Walsh said it’s an approach that works.

“We do events first to get them to come to the book club,” she said. “Right now, there’s a whole zombie-apocalypse craze, so the book is marketing itself. We’ve heard comments like, ‘Is this a movie?’”

The book club discussion, which draws students as well as a few teachers, is always fun, she said.

“It’s great to hear the kids’ reactions at the end,” she said.

To promote “Inhuman,” Walsh and fellow Hillcrest librarian Kara Walsh came up with a handful of ways to pique student interest. They aired 20-minute survivor-themed reality shows like “Man vs. Wild” and “Dude, You’re Screwed” in the cafeteria during lunchtime. They hosted a mask-making workshop because the book features a virus that turns people into human-animal hybrids. And they invited Cook County Forest Preserve District program specialist Jessica Becker to come teach wilderness skills on campus.

On a chilly February afternoon, about 15 students headed outside just beyond a courtyard used as an outdoor classroom. They huddled over picnic tables to learn the art of tying knots. “The first one was easy but it got a lot harder,” said Dajon Jones, 18, a senior from Markham. “If you’ve got to lower a rope into a hole to get someone out, you should make it so they can get the rope around their waist.”

With no plant life around except for a single weed, Becker used flash cards to make a game out of identifying edible plants and the illnesses they can treat like nausea, insomnia and indigestion.

Hilson was struck by the idea of useful plants.

“It was pretty interesting to learn that plants could help,” she said. “I mean obviously there are solutions that come from nature. I just didn’t realize they came from plants.”

Everyone liked building the fires. In groups of five, the students huddled around metal fire pits, strategically combining big sticks, twigs, sawdust and newspapers into a pile they set aflame with matches. It wasn’t easy, and the resulting fires weren’t big.

“It was kind of small, but we were excited anyway,” Hilson said.

In any case, the warmth was welcome. “You could definitely feel the heat,” said Jasmin Washington, 16, a junior from Country Club Hills.

Hilson said the skills were fun to learn.

“I’d probably need it if I go out into nature,” she said.

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