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Barnwell Middle custodian discovers passion for reading at school

[Left to right] Barnwell Middle custodian Alisa Hot with teacher Jessica Ferri, displaying their shared love of reading.

Teaching can be one of the most rewarding professions, but not all school days are good days. It just so happened to be one of those days when a coworker stopped Barnwell Middle teacher Jessica Ferri.

“I have a confession to make,” said custodian Alisa Hot. “I’ve been reading your books.”

Her confession took the English Language Arts teacher by surprise. During her breaks and after her work was finished, Hot said she would read the books featured in Ferri’s classroom reading workshop. They began a conversation about which books were their favorites and discovered a mutual bond.

“Somewhere in this conversation, she lost her apologetic tone and realized how excited I was that she was reading through my library,” said Ferri. “This conversation completely and totally made my day.”

Hot moved to the United States with her parents and siblings in 1994. Refugees of the Bosnian War, no one in her family spoke a word of English when they arrived. Despite the disadvantages, Hot said that her family “learned and were always good students.” Originally immigrating to Kansas City, Hot eventually moved to the St. Louis area after getting married. In August 2017, she began her work at Barnwell Middle as a custodian.

“There is some unexplainable satisfaction of walking into a classroom that looks the way it does after being used all day. After I finish in there, it looks wonderful and ready for a new day, where students can learn and teachers can teach,” said Hot. Her work cleaning those classrooms ultimately ignited her passion for reading.

While tidying up Ferri’s classroom one evening, she noticed the book “Wonder” sitting on a desk. She picked it up and began reading the summary on the back cover.

“On my 15-minute break, I had gone back to Mrs. Ferri’s room and started to read the book,” said Hot. “Before I knew it, I was reading every break I had!”

“One of my favorite things about teaching English Language Arts is matching the right person with the right book and helping to inspire a love of reading; there is no age limit,” said Ferri.

Ferri later approached Hot, asking her to share her reading recommendations with the students in her class. Ferri wanted the students to know that reading wasn’t just an “English teacher thing.”

Hot wrote out a list of some of the books she had read for the students. “I hoped that by writing this, the students would realize that people of all ages read these books and that there were important life lessons in each and every book, and that you can always find time to read.”

On the list was one of her favorites, “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.”

“In a sense, I feel that I can connect with them somehow because of my own experiences with war and the heartbreak that happened to the characters in the book,” said Hot. “Reading is for anyone and everyone who wants to grow their knowledge and have an emotional experience.”

With a new appetite for reading, Hot’s family has urged her to consider returning to school.

“I would love to continue my education and have considered taking online classes,” said Hot. “But with three wonderful children, it is very difficult to find the time to do so.”

With her daughter entering middle school later this year, Hot is looking forward to reading the books on the Truman Award Nominees list together.

As Ferri and Hot continue to read the same books, review their favorites, and share their thoughts, their relationship has changed from coworkers to friends with a common bond. It goes to show a cloudy day teaching or cleaning classrooms can be brightened by a shared love of reading.

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