Special guests get Simonds students excited about reading

March Is Reading Month continues with guest readers, prizes, book fair and more

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published March 23, 2016

 Georgia Dutton, a kindergartner, listens to a book being read by the superintendent.

Georgia Dutton, a kindergartner, listens to a book being read by the superintendent.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Their professions vary — mayor, police chief, superintendent, radio personality, TV reporter and more — but their message is the same: “Read!”

A revolving door of special guests has been generating buzz in the kindergarten classes at Simonds Elementary, brought together by teacher Lori Davis.

The idea first occurred to her while listening to Shannon Murphy on “Mojo in the Morning.” When Murphy mentioned doing outreach at other schools, Davis thought, “Why not us?” And so she reached out and secured Murphy as a special guest to read to her class and the other kindergarten class during March Is Reading Month. But Davis didn’t stop there.

She started reaching out to all kinds of community figures. Soon her guest list swelled to include Madison Heights Mayor Brian Hartwell, Amy Andrews of Fox 2 News, Madison Heights Police Chief Corey Haines, Lamphere Schools Superintendent Dale Steen, Lamphere High Assistant Principal Rodney Thomas, Lamphere school board members, Madison Heights firefighter Nate Figueroa, and Keri Valmessei, executive director of the Madison Heights/Hazel Park Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve had a few days so far this month where we haven’t had a guest, and the students were so disappointed,” Davis said with a laugh. “We’ve been making big signs for each guest, and the kids get to sign it and the guest takes it home.”

She said the kids have been fascinated by each guest. Davis hopes the experience will stick with them and perhaps encourage them to pursue similar careers themselves.

“The police chief came and brought sticker badges and pencils. He came in his uniform and had his gun, and the kids were asking about it,” Davis said. “I heard some feedback from the parents, and they said the kids have been coming home really excited about what they talked about.”

Haines, the police chief, said in an email that he saw it as an opportunity to show the kids that the police care.

“Reading to school children is continuing efforts by the Police Department to give back to the community in a meaningful way, and to teach our community’s children that police officers are there to help them,” Haines said.

Some of the guests brought their own books. Steen, the superintendent, brought a book he used to read to his daughters, who are now grown-up. In other cases, Davis provided the books.

“Some of the guests really got into it,” Davis said. “One board member did voices and everything. Kindergarten is definitely a different entity, so you have a lot of shout-outs and talking about how it relates to them. And every single guest so far has said they’d like to do it again.”

Hartwell, the mayor, read the book “I Know a Wee Piggy,” by Kim Norman, in one class and “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs,” by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, in another class. The latter told the classic tale from the perspective of the Big Bad Wolf.

“I spend most of my day reading as a lawyer. At home and during breaks, I read for fun. Being a member of City Council means that I always have a report on my desk to read,” Hartwell stated in an email. “I remember when government officials, especially police officers, visited my elementary classes to read. … I feel lucky to have been a small part of the students’ experience.”

Davis said that the special guests have been a hit with the kids, but they’re just one of many things the school is doing to promote reading this month and throughout the year.

All elementary students take home Reading at Home books during the year, as well as calendars where the students commit to read for a certain amount of time each month, or read with family members if they can’t read themselves. They then do a short assessment of the book, recording their thoughts on it. The parent signs it, and it’s submitted to the teacher by the end of each month.

“We talk a lot about where you read, like on your bed before you go to sleep, or after dinner on the couch, or with your brothers and sisters — a lot about the environment,” Davis said.

There’s also “Unplug It,” a separate calendar where students commit, once a week, to find time unplugging from the Internet, TV and mobile devices, and read an actual physical book. They record what they read, and they’re then entered into a contest to win one of two bikes.

And earlier this month, the students got to peruse a selection of new books at the Scholastic Book Fair. But before they started shopping, they went to a preview of the fair and wrote down the books that interested them. This got them thinking about the books and excited to read them.

Davis hopes parents will take the extra step to spend time with their child reading the books they bring home from school. 

“We really encourage parents to read to kids at any level, including those who already can read, since it helps improve fluency and comprehension and develops a love for reading,” Davis said. “Show them that reading is important, and they’ll see that.”

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