Helping Students Learn To Enjoy Reading

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The following is an article I wrote for The Dexter Daily Statesman; which is our local newspaper. Even though the events are localized, the message is universal. If we make reading enjoyable for our children, they will become better learners. Better learners become more successful in all aspects of thier lives. This was a very successful program conducted at one of our local schools. 

Students at Richland Elementary enjoy National Young Readers Week

  It was fun with a purpose last week as books, food, and camping gear filled the halls and classrooms of Richland Elementary during National Young Reader’s Week. Teachers, administrators, staff, and students worked hard preparing for the week-long event, which included free reading time, a “read and feed”, guest readers, a “campout”, plays, games, and other fun reading-based activities. 

   The idea of National Young Reader’s Week was conceptualized in 1985 when the son of the Pizza Hut Company president was having difficulty reading. The boy’s father encouraged him to read a certain number of books and would set weekly reading goals for his son.  When that goal was met, he would reward him with his favorite food; which was, of course, pizza! From that experience, the Book-It program was born. In the Book-It program, a student’s teacher sets a monthly reading goal for each student in the classroom. Once a child has reached his or her goal, they recieve a certificate for a free Personal Pan pizza from Pizza Hut. Today, the program reaches about 14 million students in 38,000 elementary schools annually across the nation and runs every school year from October through March. Locally, Dexter Pizza Hut Manager Natalie Metcalf says that from 100 to 150 students bring their certificates in to recieve their free pizza each week during the five month period. That is over 2000 pizzas annually from the Dexter restaraunt alone. Metcalf also says they have added a “Book-It Yearbook” for the 2013-2014 program. “Students can come in and sign the yearbook showing their accomplishment,” said Metcalf. The Book-It program was conducted by Pizza Hut for four years before partnering with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, and in 1989, they introduced National Young Reader’s Week to schools across the country. The idea is to help children read because they want to instead of reading because they have to, and the Richland staff couldn’t agree more. 
  
  “Reading is the foundation of learning,” said Lori Anderson, who teaches 5th and 6th grade English Language Arts and Social Studies at Richland. “The better and more willing a student is to read, the better their chances of success in all areas of academics.” The teachers and staff at Richland worked hard to produce a “reading atmosphere” that was educational and fun for the students. 

  “As educators, I believe it is our responsibility to help create life-long learners.” Said Richland Elementary principal Cara Merritt. “Life-long learners eagerly seek new knowledge and understand the importance of education. Good readers become good learners.” Creating a fun atmosphere while practicing reading, encourages students to read on their own. “I often tell the kids that reading is a skill like shooting a basketball, throwing a baseball, or even playing a video game. If you continue to practice, chances are you will get better.” And there was plenty of practicing going on at Richland. 

  The reading week began with everyone getting into the reading mode with a “free read”. Students were encouraged to select a book of their choice. They were then allowed time to get comfortable and read by themselves.
 
  “The students enjoyed being able to sit on thier pillows and blankets and read anywhere in the room,” said fourth grade teacher Kathy Roberts. It was a great way to lead the students into the fun week that awaited them. On Tuesday, teachers led an ever-popular “Read and Feed”. Which is much like the “free read” with an added element…FOOD! Students were able to curl up with a good book, a bowl of popcorn, and a soda. Wednesday was “Round Up a Good Book” day. The students dressed in their favorite Western attire while the staff brought in guest readers to read to the students in the classrooms. These “VIP” readers included teachers, moms, grandmas, and even Jo Jo the Clown, who visited Lindy Parker’s kindergarten classroom to read and perform a few magic tricks. 

  The highlight of the week seemed to be the “campout” on Thursday. Tents were set up in a designated area of the school. Each tent contained a fake campfire, laterns, decorative camping lights, lawn chairs, and flashlights. Artificial trees and real leaves were scattered throughout the area and nature sounds were even played in the background, creating a life-like forest atmosphere. Smore’s were also given out to each student. The week wrapped up on Friday with the students in grades 3-6 performing plays based on some of the student’s favorite stories and reading to the younger students. In addition to all of these fun reading activities, the High School Library Club members read aloud to each class and excerpts from well-known books were read over the intercom at random times throughout the week.  For this activity, the students were asked to guess which book the excerpt was from. The class with the most correct answers received a prize. 

   “It was very rewarding seeing the students respond the way they did,” said Anderson. “Some of the students in my class were even reading during recess and lunch…very rewarding.”

  “This week was very successful,” added Merritt. “I overheard kids in the hallway talking about books, students were asking me about books, and we even had some students ask their parents to bring some of thier own personal favorites to school.” 

  When asked about the success of the week, Title 1 Reading Coach Karen Brown said, “Working with the teachers on a project such as this is exciting to me. The teachers really got excited and worked hard putting it together. Then, to see the kids get so excited and so involved with reading makes it all worthwhile. We are already thinking of ideas for next year!”

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Selflessness for our nation: the Jones family

In May of 2004, Sgt. Cody Jones was deployed to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF5) with the 2nd Battalion 5th Infantry Regiment out of the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii to help in the fight against terrorism. He would be gone for one long year before returning to his duty station in May of 2005. During this time, he had to leave his wife Carlie and young son Austin, who had moved to Missouri during his deployment. It was a difficult time for Cody and his family. Carlie recalls leaning on Cody’s grandparents, Ardeth and Juanita Jones, for support; and Austin, being very young, did not really know what was going on. It has been nearly ten years since that deployment and two more children have been added to the ranks of the Jones family, Avvie and Gracie, and they recently received word that Cody will be going back to Afghanistan for nine more months.

Cody is no stranger to the military lifestyle. He joined the Army after graduating High School in 2000. After basic training and Advanced Infantry Training, or AIT, he was stationed in Hawaii for four months before going to Louisiana for one month of training. Then he met Carlie, and the two were married in November of 2001. In September of 2005, after his return from Afghanistan in May, Cody received his honorable discharge from the Army. Then, on July 4, 2007, joined back with the Missouri Army National Guard and has been in ever since, working in Cape Girardeau, with the 1140th Engineer Battalion. In November, he will start working with the 220th Engineer Company (Horizontal) out of Festus, Missouri, preparing for his next deployment with them in the summer of 2014.

“It’s hard,” says Cody about being away from his family, “It’s a lot of give and take. I’m gone about two weeks out of every month now.” That is in addition to his upcoming mobilization training and deployment, when he will not see his family for eleven long months. However, Cody says his family is “strong and supportive” and his wife Carlie “is a very strong military spouse, and without her I would not have the successful military career I have today. She is the backbone that keeps this family upright and strong.” says Cody. “When I am away, she has to be the mother and father, the wife and husband, and she has to keep this household running.”“It’s never easy,” says Carlie. “I want him here… but you get used to it. The hardest part is the kids. I knew what I was getting into when I married Cody, I chose this lifestyle. The kids didn’t, but we are a strong family and we handle it the best we can. The kids are older now, so they understand more. But they are very strong and I gain strength from them. They know we do this because their Dad is helping people…and that it is a good thing.” Cody and Carlie seem to have it figured out; which, unfortunately, is not true for many military families.

“A lot of them don’t make it,” says Cody. “You see a lot of separation and divorce in military families.”  Cody and Carlie attribute all of their success to a strong support group. Whether it is friends and family, military groups, or their church community, someone is there for them if they need it.

Fortunately for the Jones family, there are some differences concerning Cody’s upcoming deployment and the one nearly ten years ago. Communications have greatly improved in recent years. Soldiers are now able to use the Internet and satellite communication more frequently, including applications like Skype and Facetime; which allow users to actually see each other. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter are also more accessible. Cody’s job duties are slightly less dangerous this time around as well, “The first time I went, I was in the Infantry, as a team leader. So I pretty much spent the whole time kicking in doors. This time I’ll be pretty much sitting in an office. I’ll be the supply guy. I’ll be making sure everyone has the beans and bullets…making sure everyone has what they need.” However, being away from the family is still very hard. The sacrifices military families like the Jones’ make cannot be overstated. Hard work, often difficult and dangerous living conditions, and countless hours away from loved ones make the military lifestyle a difficult one, but when asked if he could imagine any other way of life, Cody responded, “No! I’ve tried it. It’s like being on a football team. Even if sometimes we don’t get along…we know we have each other’s back. It’s a tight knit brotherhood. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Thanks to Cody and his family, and many like them, we can enjoy the freedom we experience here on American soil. We can have the rights and liberties that are granted to us by our Constitution. So, I hope I can speak for all Americans when I say thanks to Cody and the rest of the Jones family, and to all service men and women and their families, for making the sacrifices that you make to keep us safe and free.

Thank you