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SHIRLEY — It is well known that children who read more, read better. So says educational researcher Stephen Krashen, whose studies indicate that writing style, vocabulary, spelling and grammar improve with increased free voluntary reading as well or better than with traditional skill-based reading instruction (Krashen, 1993).

That is why teachers and staff at Lura A. White (LAW) Elementary School do more than just encourage free voluntary reading among their students. They model it.

The school will soon begin its annual Books and Beyond program, a research-based recreational reading program designed to increase reading outside the classroom and help parents promote literacy behaviors at home. Through Books and Beyond, the students and staff will read thousands upon thousands of pages that will take them to places and times beyond their own imaginations.

Those who read the equivalent of 120 books or more will receive a certificate and “gold” medal at the school’s year-end student recognition ceremony.

Warming up

But Ayer Shirley Regional School District (ASRSD) librarians Lauren Dill and Kathryn Lyon know that the creation of a reading community goes beyond the work of parents and individual teachers. That is why, each fall, they make a special purchase of books with funds from the Shirley Charitable Foundation.

A label affixed on the inside cover of each book explains that it was purchased for the LAW library on behalf of the person from the community who has volunteered his or her time to read it to a classroom of students on Community Reading Day.

On a recent Thursday morning, 20 such readers gathered in the school library to pick up their books and share them with a classroom of eager students.

ASRSD Food Services Director Shannon Herreros read “Tickle Monster” to Valery Hillier’s preschool class, while Ayer Shirley Regional Middle School Vice Principal Berta Aikey read and discussed “My Secret Bully” with Tim Churchill’s fifth-grade homeroom.

School district superintendent Carl Mock surprised Ken Dow’s first-graders with a twist on the well-known fable about courage, “Chicken Little.”

“How many of you have heard the tale of ‘Chicken Little?'” Mock asked the students. “Well, this story is called ‘Chicken Big.'”

As the head of the school district read the humorous story about a “humongous” egg, the students giggled and smiled.

“‘It’s big!’ clucked the little rooster. ‘It’s enormous!’ clucked the small chicken. ‘It’s an elephant!’ peeped the smallest chicken. ‘Run for your lives!’ they cried,” read Mock with expression, much to the children’s delight.

More than books

On the floor above, former Shirley School District Superintendent Mac Reid read Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” to Jennifer Rosa’s third-graders. “When I was a boy,” he shared with the students, “I used to love to swing on birch branches, because they bend way down.”

Down the hall in Cathy Nacke’s third-grade classroom, ASRSD Director of Finance Evan Katz passed around currency from around the world as he pointed out their countries of origin on a globe.

An 1865 Confederate bill printed on only one side made for an interesting discussion. “Does anyone know what the Civil War was about?” asked Katz.

After the children shared their knowledge of the time period, Katz asked them what a group of people would need to have if they wanted to start their own country. Besides their own government and army, they would also need some form of legal tender to buy the things they needed. The Confederates needed their own currency, Katz explained, but could only afford to print one side.

After the class had discussed and explored the world through currency, Katz said that the reason he brought in the money was because it is like reading.

“When you read at home do you stay in your mind?” he asked. “Your mind goes places. In Magic Tree House (books) the brother and sister go other places, and you go with them.”

“That’s why I brought the money in. We didn’t go anywhere but we went different places and times. Reading takes you to other places and other times, and that’s what makes it so much fun.”

When members of the school community and the community-at-large, including Shirley Town Clerk Amy McDougall, town Treasurer Kevin Johnston, Selectman Kendra Dumont, Shirley fire and police officers and others visit students in their classrooms to read, they are doing more than promoting reading and literacy. They are defining the printed word as a shared experience, and that is what LAW’s reading community is all about.

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