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Charming reluctant Eagle County readers

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyTanner Pierce-Durance, 7, flips through a book Monday at the Avon Library. The Stone Creek Elementary School student participates in reading programs at the library during the summer.
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EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Chase Cavanaugh, 10, is sitting on a bench outside the Avon Library waiting for his mother to finish checking out books. He’s halfway through “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkein.

He’s a fan of all things Hobbit, especially the “Lord of the Rings” movies. But reading the books are still fun.

“It looks a lot more cool in my head,” Cavanaugh said. “I like to imagine what everyone looks like.”

Meanwhile, inside the Avon Library, along with the kids checking out books you’ll find scores of kids on the computers with headphones, checking e-mail and surfing the Internet. They may have library cards, but many rarely use them for books.

Reading is a task many kids reserve for sifting through tidbits of information here and there on the Internet, sandwiched between Web sites, scrawled on Myspace pages and sent via e-mail to friends.

They may in fact be reading ” but it’s the near thoughtless kind.

Mo Beck, a reading teacher at Minturn Middle School, says it’s difficult to show kids that reading is not only good for your brain, but is also enjoyable. Books are being crowded out of daily routines by television, DVDs and video games, and serious reading isn’t seen as a priority.

“Books are competing with the Internet and text messages ” all this instant gratification,” Beck said.

While many students love reading and go through several books a week, there are students who enter Beck’s sixth-grade classroom not knowing what the glossary of a book is or how to use the table of contents or index. Then, she’ll put on a five-minute video about ancient Egypt on the computer ” and their eyes are glued to the screen.

“I’m doing jumping jacks to try to get them engaged,” Beck said.

The trick to fighting this widespread indifference to reading seems to be finding books that actually interest the students, and that can be different for everyone.

“The most important thing is to make sure there are enough books in the classroom, giving them variety, and teachers being aware of student interests,” said Tracy Barber, principal at June Creek Elementary. “You have to select books that they’ll find interesting and allow them to choose.”

Schools are making a conscious effort to include a wider variety of genres in their libraries and lessons, and teachers are especially trying to incorporate more non-fiction books. Traditionally, elementary school has been a place for stories and imagination ” but kids like reading about snakes and baseball just as much, said Heather Eberts, director of elementary education for the school district.

“Teachers work really hard to figure out what’s going to excite a kid about reading ” and once you figure out what interests them, the battle is half won, you have them there at the table reading with you,” Eberts said.

Beck finds that when books are interesting and help students understand what’s being taught in class, they’ll be more engaged. Her sixth-graders this year are studying ancient river civilizations ” so they’ll be reading books together that revolve around places like ancient Egypt and ancient Rome.

“Reading that is curriculum-driven is a big benefit for kids,” Beck said.

Incentives also help. Teachers regularly ask their students to keep reading journals and track how many hours a week they spend with books, often with prizes for kids making their goals.

When Eberts was principal at Brush Creek Elementary, she had to kiss a pig in front of the whole school when the students met their school-wide reading goals. Last year, Brush Creek principal Anne Heckman was made into a human ice cream Sunday when the kids met their reading goals.

Students are regularly taken to school libraries to pick out books, and especially during the summer, are asked to read every day. This past summer, Edwards Elementary actually kept its library open, so families wouldn’t have to go to Avon or Eagle. Teachers encourage students to go to the library with their parents and read with their parents.

Also, if teachers themselves seem to get a hoot out of reading a good book, it rubs off on the kids.

“I find that as a teacher, if you display your love of reading, you’re more likely to get your kids excited about reading,” Barber said.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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