Feeding a love for reading

Cary high schoolers collect books, read to second-graders for literacy project

schandler@newsobserver.comJanuary 27, 2013 

Some of the Panther Creek High School students who recently spent time reading to second graders at Mills Park Elementary admit they aren’t voracious readers themselves. But they hoped to plant a seed with the youngsters that might bloom into a lifelong love of reading in them.

As part of a project with marketing club DECA, seniors Nicole Stober, Trey Tillotson and James Compton made four trips to Mills Park classrooms in Cary, each time reading a book to the students and then leading a related activity. The aim was to promote literacy early and often.

“I always kind of hated reading growing up,” said Trey, who lives in Apex. “I never really had a role model who told me that it was good to read. I feel that if I was in a second-grade class and a bunch of high schoolers came in, I would have looked up to them. If they told me how awesome reading is and how much it can affect my life, then maybe I would have developed a love for reading at that small age.”

In four visits to Mills Park, each of the high schoolers read a book to a class (the selections were “Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose,” “The Lorax,” “The Butter Battle Book” and “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” all by Dr. Seuss), discussed the book’s theme and then led a related activity. For “The Lorax,” for example, the visitors discussed environmentalism and responsibility then helped the second graders make paper trees inscribed with their suggestions for helping the earth.

Nicole, who designed the lessons and led the project and is considering a career in education, said the visits were a blast.

“I just love hanging out with little kids,” she said in her Cary home. “I love seeing what I could be doing as a teacher if I pursue that career. And I love seeing … what the kids take from it and how much they learn from it.”

It’s not easy to wade into a classroom full of little kids, “but I think it was definitely worth it just to see the kids get into reading,” Trey said. And it wasn’t hard to tell that their lessons were sinking in. On the day of the volunteers’ last visit, second-graders that James had been working with brought in their favorite books to show him.

“Hopefully, they’ve learned what reading can teach them,” Trey said. “Hopefully, they’ve developed love, or at least a non-hate for reading. Hopefully, they’ve just seen, through us, that reading can teach you things that are valuable outside of just reading a book.”

Another part of the teens’ effort to promote literacy was a book drive conducted at Panther Creek earlier this month.

After pitching their project and getting approval from the school’s administration, they spent a week collecting used children’s books to donate to a local organization called Book Harvest.

“We just thought the organization was really great and we liked how it benefited only the local kids, which is what we’re going for,” Nicole said.

By the end, they collected around 600 books that went toward Book Harvest’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day book drive.

The project is over now, but it’s still on the high schoolers’ minds as a paper and slideshow describing it moves through a DECA public relations competition. It’s already won at the district level, so now the project will be judged at the state level in March. But the biggest reward, they said, was the opportunity to show that reading is important – and fun. It’s a lesson that Trey takes to heart, because he’s still learning it himself.

He’s been tackling classics like “Hamlet” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” in his Advanced Placement Literature and Composition class this year, he said, and he’s “kind of gotten into it.”

“I hated it at first,” he explained, “but as you see that all things relate to the major themes of the book, it’s gotten interesting, which is cool.”

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