An abundance of books, successful literacy programs and the staff's obvious love of literature have earned Ruch Community School recognition as a top reading school in the state.

An abundance of books, successful literacy programs and the staff's obvious love of literature have earned Ruch Community School recognition as a top reading school in the state.

The school received the Exemplary Reading Program Award after being selected from among six schools statewide nominated by Oregon Reading Association councils.

Carol Folk, a retired teacher and former ORA president, said she was impressed with how the staff's love of reading filtered down to the children.

"It was valued not just for the skill, but there was a love of literature and language and books and words," Folk said. "That's something that you take with you for life."

In January, Folk and two other ORA officials visited Ruch to evaluate its literacy programs. Part of the Medford School District, the rural school was targeted for closure in 2004 due to declining enrollment but now has just more than 200 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

"When we walked in the office, there was a stack of books on the secretary's desk," Folk said. "There were children sitting in the waiting area reading and a rack of books for kids."

Every few weeks during the lunch hour, Ruch Principal Julie Hill hosts a book club, in which she and students enjoy healthy snacks and discuss a classic.

The morning of the ORA visit, Folk heard Hill tell her students there were 10 copies of Jack London's "White Fang" in her office for those interested in joining the discussion group.

"When we came back to the office two hours later, every book was gone," Folk marveled.

After the school was nominated for the award late last summer, Hill was asked to complete an application with examples of how the school's reading programs facilitate student learning, how its students demonstrate success in reading and how its teachers provide leadership and vision for the reading programs, among other things.

On Friday, the school celebrated Read Across America Day, which is tied to Dr. Seuss' March 2 birthday. Students and teachers wore their best Dr. Seuss get-ups, and about 25 community volunteers showed up to read with students. Some of the older students also paired up with younger kids to read "There's a Wocket in My Pocket," "Green Eggs and Ham," "Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You" and other Seuss favorites.

The importance of reading isn't lost on the Ruch students.

"You can get smarter reading books than watching movies," said sixth-grader Joby Evanow, adding that his favorites are war and adventure books.

In one corner of a classroom, volunteer April Powell read "The Lorax" with two, first-grade girls. Powell, a farmer and mother to three Ruch students, says she volunteers at the school on Thursdays and whenever she is needed.

"This should be the model for public schools," she said. "The teachers are dedicated, and the volunteer force. A lot aren't even parents. I haven't seen that kind of commitment anywhere else."

Powell said her fourth-grade child participates in the school's SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) program, in which volunteers come to the school to read with the younger kids.

At first, her son struggled, she said.

"Then this year — I don't know if it was the teachers or the programs — something clicked, and he is loving reading books," she said.

In addition to SMART, the school has formed partnerships with local organizations. At Christmas, the Jackson County Readers Guild (with Santa's help) gave each child a wrapped book. Local Rotary chapters and the Masonic Warren Lodge sponsor a program called Bikes for Books, awarding one girl and one boy a bike or Kindle for their reading achievements.

The school also invites local authors to talk about the writing process and share their stories and individual classes often frequent the nearby Ruch library.

"Ruch's public library is right next to our campus so the kids are always walking over there and taking advantage of the resources there," Hill said. "We are blessed to have them a stone's throw away from us."

Hill keeps a variety of books available for students and community members to borrow or exchange.

"Every time I go to a garage sale, I gather a lot of books, and a lot of people donate them," she said. "Our goal is to make sure there's not a lack of reading material."

Ruch's award included $500 toward a reading project and an invitation to present at the ORA Winter Institute in Portland, as well as at the International Reading Association's annual conference scheduled for May in New Orleans. Ruch teachers also received free ORA membership.

Hill said the school will use some of its winnings to pay for a digital storytelling event. Middle school students will interview and film longtime Applegate residents, edit the footage and present it at a community celebration in May.

Hill credits the school's recent success to its family-like atmosphere.

"I knew we had a great thing going on," she said.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or Follow her at