Lighting Up Literacy

Instilling a love of reading

by: Photo by Susan Matheny - Volunteer Tim Gassner reads to a small group of students on the Madras COCC patio.

   A double line of cheering, high-fiving adults greeted 200 first-graders as they stepped off the school bus for the first Gift of Literacy celebration last Friday.
   The event, initiated by the 509-J School District in conjunction with its Read to Succeed program, was held at the Madras COCC campus.
   "It's wonderful having them here, especially them getting to see what the college looks like," said Madras COCC director Courtney Snead. "I loved seeing them come off the bus with their big grins. They were so excited," she added.
   Giant storybook characters including Clifford the Big Red Dog, Splat the Cat, and Mr. Toad also greeted kids and joined in on the activities.
   Jefferson County Rotary Club members and other community volunteers helped sponsor the activity, and were on hand to read aloud to the kids.
   First, the youngsters gathered as a whole to hear John Jorgenson, of Casper, Wyo., who founded the Gift of Literacy program 12 years ago as a memorial to his wife Sue after she passed away.
   "She loved reading and children," Jorgenson explained, then launched into a story about "Good Queen Sue," who was kind, gentle and liked to share.
   In the story, Queen Sue teaches children the magic spell "sniggly, sneed, I want to read," which they use to fight off an evil Grinch when he threatens to destroy all their books.
   At the end of the story, Jorgenson said all the teachers and volunteer adults were there "to share with you the magic of reading. If you can read and imagine it, you can do it."
   In exchange, he asked the students to make him a promise, and 200 voices yelled out "I promise to read this summer."
   Next, district librarian Catherine Sergeant then led the group through an interactive "I'm Going on a Bear Hunt" story, and then they broke up into small groups to have books read to them by volunteers.
   Rotary member Dick Anderson said he read "Lion in the Library" to his group.
   "I was surprised that after I was done reading, four or five of them sat there reading the book and they asked about some of the words -- like `circulation desk.' The kids were so excited," Anderson said.
   Sergeant was happy to see that. "Our hope is, that seeing so many adults involved, will make reading exciting and will invigorate their interest. (The Gift of Literacy event) will show that reading can be a fun experience and this is the first step on their journey," she said.
   During the school year, teachers read aloud to students from a collection of five books provided by sponsors: "Apples to Oregon," "Abe Lincoln Crossed the Creek," Bear Dream," "Zapato Power," and "Jingle Dancer."
   Each child got to pick their favorite book, and at the Gift of Literacy celebration they received a hardbound copy of that book, along with a T-shirt, book bag, and information on the library's Summer Reading Program.
   The three-hour program ended with a free barbecue for the adults and kids.
   "Our ultimate goal is to instill a love of reading at an early age, and inspire them for long-term success in school and life," said Melinda Boyle, Rotary member and 509-J curriculum director.