Elizabeth Dudek and Will Campbell, students at Wilson Middle School in Moline, read "The Only Road" by Alexandra Diaz. They are members of the Morning Coffee Club, a book club open to all students at Wilson.

MOLINE — It is a dash before 7 on a sunny albeit breezy morn.

Normally I would be in mid-slumber, but I'm surrounded by a group of hard-charging middle-schoolers, parents, teachers and significant family members.

There is a upbeat buzz filling Moline's Wilson Middle School cafeteria. No disrespect intended to the food staff, but the crisp morning chatter is not about that day's lunch menu.

The hubbub is about the Morning Coffee Club, a unique book club open to all students at Wilson and their parents or other significant adults.

MCC is in its 13th year and is as popular as ever. Anyone who tells you kids today don't read or are not excited about having a book in their hands should spend a morning with MCC leader Susie Smice and her  book clubbers.

No phones, just books. It's inspiring.

The purpose of MCC, Smice says, is to provide literacy opportunities for students, and to provide a way for parents/significant adults to connect with children through book discussions. It’s also a way to connect with the community members from all walks of live who serve as discussion leaders.  

MCC meets five times per school year. I have seen MCC up close and calling it "special' would not do the club justice.

Smice says MCC is funded by grants from the Illinois Reading Council, The Moline Foundation and The Moline Public Schools Foundation.  All require a new request each year. 

"I would also like to bring in an author this year, but that requires additional funding,'' says Smice, noting MCC is holding its annual fundraiser Saturday with the hope of raising enough money to pay for an appearance by an author.

The fundraiser will take place at Moline's Donut Delite, 3606 Avenue of the Cities, which is owned by Sue Lillybeck. MCC members will be present to collect donations, and proceeds from the sale of doughnuts will be donated to Morning Coffee Club. Steve Lillybeck, Sue Lillybeck's husband, is a loyal discussion leader for MCC.

"It's huge for us,'' Smice says of the day at Donut Delite. "It plays a big role in where we take the program. We will never be able to thank Sue and Steve enough for what they do.''

MCC works like this:

At the beginning of each school year, every student at Wilson receives an invitation to join. Smice an English/language arts teacher of the top-notch kind, is the brains, the brawn and the muscle behind the project.

She also refuses to let MCC slide.

"In order to participate, a student must have a significant adult attend with them,'' Smice said. "The preference is for a parent to attend; however, I understand that with work schedules, it’s not always possible. Therefore, another adult can step in instead. We have even had faculty members 'adopt' students because their parents are unable to attend. The thing is, it's always worked. Everyone is on board with the mission.''

Smice says commitment to the program must be made by a student prior to receiving the first novel.  At least one month prior to a meeting, students receive a family copy of the selected book.

In addition to the book, discussion questions are provided. These are the questions that will be discussed during the meeting. Handing out the questions in advance allows students and their parents/significant adults to prep for the meeting.

As someone who has been a discussion leader, I can attest to students and parents/significant adults reading the book and having a discussion before the MCC meeting.

Every MCC gathering begins at 7 with Donut Delite doughnut, provided by the Lillybecks. 

"Who doesn't like a doughnut and orange juice in the morning?'' Smice says. "Meeting in the cafeteria before going into group discussions is a great way to start the day.''

When it’s time to begin discussions, participants are divided into small groups, and each group has a discussion leader. Discussion leaders are volunteers from the community.

The meeting concludes at approximately 7:50 a.m. Evaluations are filled out by students, parents/significant adults, and discussion leaders.  The last component of MCC is a book giveaway.

Twenty books are given away at each meeting, which is a huge hit among the 100 MCC members for 2019-2020.

"Students get excited when their name is drawn and they are able to select a new book,'' Smice says.

And that excitement is the beauty of Morning Coffee Club.


Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309-757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.


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