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Literacy night puts students on yellow brick road of reading

OUTLOOK PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM  - A Butler Creek Elementary School student stops Glinda the Good Witch, aka Sarah Sipple, Butler Creek's literacy coach, for a chat. On a recent warm spring evening, mobs of “munchkins” and their families streamed into Butler Creek Elementary School and entered the magical land of Oz — and literacy.

The occasion was Butler Creek’s wildly popular annual family literacy night, which attracts hundreds of students and their parents to a themed evening that makes reading and writing fun.

Although the “Wizard of Oz”-themed celebration may seem like a typical elementary school carnival, the aim of the evening is to boost student learning by increasing parent involvement in their child’s education and emphasizing the importance of literacy.

“Children whose parents are involved do better in school,” said Sarah Sipple, Butler Creek’s literacy coach and an organizer of the evening, who portrayed an enchanting Glinda the Good Witch. “This is a way for kids to see ‘my parents are involved in my education.’”

In fact, parental involvement is considered so important that it is a requirement for getting federal Title 1 funds dispensed to schools serving low-income students, such as Butler Creek, located at 2789 S.W. Butler Road in Gresham.

Ashley Johns said her two children, Riley, 10, and Noah, 5, love Butler Creek’s family literacy night.

“They get to see their teachers in a different light,” she said. The event “always has tons of learning activities. They make it exciting with fun and the costumes, but the kids are still learning.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM  - Butler Creek kindergartner Miraim Gastelum plays a game in which one player describes the animal pictured on the other players forehead, and the player has to guess what it is. Other schools also bring families in with family math nights, art nights, multi-cultural nights and evenings devoted to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

These evenings also familiarize parents with changes in the way subjects are currently taught.

“These events help parents understand the new literacy and math their kids are doing,” said Cheryl Williamson, the Centennial School District’s director of curriculum and student learning.

“We are helping parents know how to help their child in school,” Williamson said. She noted that these events also help parents understand what kinds of literacy or math activities they can do at home. “Learning doesn’t stop when kids leave school.”

Family literacy nights emphasize — in a fun way — the importance of reading, writing and speaking.

“It provides an opportunity and activities that show literacy doesn’t just have to be sitting and reading a book,” Sipple said. “It gives parents a broader perspective.”

Butler Creek’s perspective covered the entire “Wizard of Oz” landscape. One wing of the school became Kansas, where Dorothy and dog Toto started their odyssey, the second was the yellow brick road and the third transformed into the Emerald City.

Each was delightfully decked out with decorations to fit the theme. Organizers were careful to put activities for a range of ages in each wing so families could meet different teachers, including some their children might have in the future.

Melodee Khamchanthavisouk, who brought her three young cousins, said 5-year-old J.J., who will start kindergarten at Butler Creek next year, was so thrilled by family literacy night that he wants to come to school immediately.

“I think it is nice. It is a good experience for the kids,” Khamchanthavisouk said.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM  - Kindergartner Elijah Berry carefully selects a book after winning the book walk at the Butler Creek Elementary School family literacy night. Families were treated to pizza and fruit in the cafeteria. A Scholastic Reading Club book fair was set up in the entry hall. The time-honored cake walk was replaced with a book walk, and students stood in line for a chance to land on a space that would win them a book.

Classrooms and halls were stuffed with literacy activities and games. Books relating to the themes and activities were displayed everywhere, such as books on tornadoes in the Kansas wing.

Farm animal bingo was standing room only. A “farmer” played animal noises on the computer, and players searched their cards to see if they had a pig on their card to match the oinking noise. Seven-year-old Nicole Allen showed off the two prizes she had already won — colorful bookmarks.

The evening “makes them excited about getting books and reading books,” said dad Brian Allen, noting the teachers on literacy night “come up with great ideas we can do at home.”

One paper-covered hallway wall invited citizens of Oz to write what they would ask the wizard to give them. Answers ranged from “I want crayons,” “a house on the river and “a phone” to the more Oz-like, “a good friendship.”

Alba Vazquez’s fourth-grade daughter Karen deemed making a “tornado in a bottle” her favorite activity of the evening.

“The Wizard of Oz” is her favorite movie, and Karen’s mom said her daughter handily won several rounds of Oz trivia. Her prize was an eraser shaped like a brain — the organ coveted by the Wizard of Oz’s scarecrow.

The educators at Butler Creek said they hope students and their parents attending the event will be inspired to follow their yellow brick road to greater literacy skills.