An open book

The Agora Virtual Book Club held its first in-person meeting where many virtual charter school classmates read and met each other for the first time.

Eighth grade student John Kovacs (center) and his father Adam met with his English teacher Pam Sieger for the first Agora Virtual Book Club meet-up. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTO

Students in Pam Sieger’s eighth-grade English class and book club have been friends – some of them best friends – since the school year started months ago. But it wasn’t until recently that some of them first saw each other in person.

The Agora Virtual Book Club held its first in-person meeting on May 14 at the Romanita G. de Rodriguez Library, 600 W. Girard Ave. About 20 of the 30 eighth-grade students in the club traveled from across the state, including from Harrisburg and Scranton. One mom who traveled from Harrisburg picked up three students on her way.

They read passages from Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and, in many instances, met each other for the first time.

“Hearing them read face to face out loud, as an English cyber teacher, I don’t often get to see that,” Sieger said.

Students at Agora Cyber Charter School do not turn on their webcams during class, so this was the first time even Sieger had seen many of her students. Sieger recalled seeing hugs and tears when some of the students met at the beginning of the club, as two best friends used to chatting with each other only online met for the first time.

Sieger was able to create the club after the school received a grant from Dollar General and was given creative control over how it is run. Named the Literary Legends by students, the club has so far read six young adult books, including Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. Sieger said the students identified with the plot of that book, which centers around a sick young girl who can’t leave her house.

“Sometimes cyber charter school students can be isolated and don’t get the opportunity to socialize on a daily basis, so I think that’s why a meeting like today is so important,” she said.

The club also was able to hear from authors of books they’ve read, including Dashka Slater, who wrote The 57 Bus, and Brandon Kiely, who wrote Tradition, a book about being kind and accepting others.

“Some of the students are living in areas where it’s just not safe and the schools aren’t safe, so coming to Agora as a second choice, for some of them it saved them,” Sieger said. “Being able to be in a small intimate club like this helped them grow in confidence.”

Mayfair resident John Kovacs was among the students who met at the club. He met some of his classmates before at other events and school trips Agora hosted, and said the school provides many opportunities for students to meet and socialize.

“The reason I’m here today is to experience what people who normally say you wouldn’t be able to experience at a cyber school because of the misconception,” he said.

Kovacs will also run the school’s leadership club, where he will teach fellow students who may be shy skills in confidence.

“I think this book club as well as my leadership club are really just to help people that are shy,” he said. ••