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Partnerships, at-home literacy focuses of reading month

School leaders work hard to get books into homes

Wyoming — During a typical March is Reading month, students participate in classroom activities such as decorating doors to resemble book covers and taking spontaneous reading breaks.

This year, however, Gladiola Elementary staff is switching the focus from within the school walls to inside students’ homes, ensuring families have everything they need to focus on reading.

“One thing we learned when the shutdown happened that was heavy on our hearts was that we couldn’t send students home with books to keep them reading,” Principal Cheryl Corpus said.

First grader Zander Hall shines his flashlight on his book during Flashlight Friday (Courtesy)

“That was a huge concern,” added second-grade teacher Julie Dykstra, who noted that the worry grew as the school closure stretched from weeks to months. “This year, we have sent a ton of books home with kids so they have their own reading library at home.”

While 30 percent of Gladiola students continue to learn remotely, the staff is making efforts to connect families with digital and print resources. A main partner in the effort is Kent District Library, which is offering virtual tours of the Wyoming branch, 3350 Michael Ave. SW; educational videos on how to get a library card; and information about events and resources for families. The KDL Bookmobile has also been stationed at food distributions, bringing library services to patrons.

“We are really focusing on putting the library at the center of what we have going on,” Dykstra said. “We have an amazing library, and so many of our kids have never been there.”

The staff is also grateful for donations of new and gently used books. Anna Rivera, Kent School Services Network community school coordinator, has collected 272 donated books, mostly from Wyoming Harbor Church and Christ Lutheran Church for students to keep or borrow, return and receive another. 

First grader Carter Bridges reads by flashlight (Courtesy)

Books & Places to Read Them

Students are enjoying having those books and others in their hands, both at school and home. 

Second-grader Riley Weber, who is enrolled in remote learning, likes to curl up in the dark with a flashlight in a comfy corner of her room.  “I am reading chapter books,” she said, holding up the book “Hero” by Jennifer Li Shotz. “It’s about a labrador named Hero,” she said.

Second-graders Zoey Oertlin and Jason Osburn also have favorite chapter and series books, and favorite spots at home to read them. For Zoey, it’s her bedroom loft, but Jason’s space is a bit more professional: “down here in the basement in my office,” he said during a Zoom session. 

“One thing we learned when the shutdown happened that was heavy on our hearts was that we couldn’t send students home with books to keep them reading.”

— Gladiola Elementary School Principal Cheryl Corpus

Teacher Jennifer Blackburn included many of the activities she normally does in March, but virtually. The second-grade remote teacher said she knows that for many students family time has been ample, but she’s still encouraging students to read with parents and other family members.

She mailed each of her 24 students large envelopes filled with materials for creating Dr. Seuss or Thing 1 or Thing 2 hats, word searches and other literacy-based activities. She shared a calendar for students to use that instructed on certain days to “bring a joke book” or “read a book about weather.” She even does the popular flashlight Friday on Zoom, with students reading in the dark with flashlights in their homes, but in online breakout rooms with their friends. 

“I tried to choose things that would create an equal balance of family time and together(class) time,” Blackburn said.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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