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A reading recess

-  Sandy Grade School fifth-graders give back to reading program


by: POST PHOTO: SEAN HIGGINS - POST PHOTO: SEAN HIGGINS Sandy Grade School first-grade student Jon Poulin, left, reads with fifth-grader Taylor McMahon. McMahon gave up her recess period to read with Poulin. Each day following the 9:30 a.m. bell at Sandy Grade School, about 15 fifth-graders make their way to Lesley Vermaas’ first-grade classroom during recess.

The students are not going to detention or being disciplined or being forced to miss recess, but are voluntarily forgoing their precious recess break to read books with younger students.

“They just come in on their own; the transition is amazing,” Vermaas said.

It all began about a year ago when a small group told fifth-grade teacher Laurie Espenel they wanted to read to the first-graders. Since then, the upperclassmen have made it a regular thing, and the reading continues.

“We (Vermaas and Espenel) work together as a buddy team, so we do a lot of activities together,” Vermaas said.

When the fifth-graders arrive, the underclassmen are already sitting patiently with a book, thumbing through the pages waiting for one of the “older kids” to come and visit with them.

The 15 minutes a day the students spend reading together has been something spectacular, too, as Vermaas is confident that it has begun to advance the reading skills for both students.

It also has been a part of the day that is, for the most part, hands-off for teachers.

“We’re really trying to give students the room to learn their way,” Principal Kim Ball said. “And also for them to help decide how to get there.”

So far, it’s been a success. Vermaas, Espenel and Ball have all agreed that the age dynamic has been a large contributor to the success because the younger students don’t see a teacher reading to them, they view the older students as the “cool upperclassmen.”

However, the older students take the teaching role, Ball explained, adding that when the first-graders ask a question, their older counterparts answer them in the same manner as the teachers.

“So they’re definitely listening,” she said.

Fifth-grader Rebekah Unger sat attentively through the entire duration of last Thursday’s reading session guiding another student through a book.

“I like to read with the first-graders so I can help them learn and get better,” she said, also mentioning that her favorite book is “Bad Kitty,” which is a series of American children’s books about a housecat named Kitty.