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Reading has never been so much fun

Ordway students enjoy the weekly visits of seniors with Rockn’ Rolln’ books in tow.

On Mondays, the second-graders at Ordway School get to be Rockn’ Rolln’ Readers.

It’s not a day when they get to crank the classroom stereo and boogie with their books.

It’s a slice of time when second-graders get to pick a favorite story and read it aloud to a special person – usually a senior citizen – who shows up every week, eager to listen.

The Rockn’ Rolln’ Reader program – so named by the students because the books are rolled into class on a cart – is being hailed by Ordway officials and teachers as a remarkable success, not only for giving budding readers the confidence to read aloud, but as a way to learn respect and acceptance of themselves and others.

“It’s fantastic,” said Ordway second-grade teacher Jennifer Burlingame. “It’s another opportunity for them to read one-on-one, and I love the age difference. It’s special. They look forward to it every week.

“And the grandparents are so sweet. They really help the kids along.”

Ordway Principal Glen Robbins said while there is no empirical evidence on the program’s impact, it has unquestionably boosted student enthusiasm for reading, an outcome worth celebrating.

“It started last spring, and it’s been pretty amazing,” Robbins said. “We just see the kids sparkle, they are so eager to read.”

Ordway now hopes to launch a similar program to help children with math skills, he said.

The Ordway program involves 20 volunteers, who make the rounds to three second-grade classrooms with a total of 70 students.

The program was developed by the school’s advisory “site council” of parents and teachers last year, after they witnessed the success of a similar program in Poulsbo.

Parent Karen Sachs recruited volunteers for Rockn’ Rolln’ readers from the Kiwanis Club, the Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center, and retired teachers in the community.

While the reading ability among the students ranges from those who can’t read at all, to those who are reading at the seventh-grade level, the program offers non-judgmental encouragement for the children no matter where they’re at, proponents say.

“We try to have them pick something they can read and feel good about,” said teacher Julia Graves. “We take them where they are and move them forward. They tell us, ‘this is the best time I’ve ever had reading.’”

Some of the volunteers suspect that the kids enjoy it because they are not being judged or graded. This is reading for absolute pleasure, in the company of someone who looks like a grandparent, they say.

“They are adorable and so thrilled to have someone come in every week,” said volunteer Alice Frost. “It’s important for them to know that people, other than their parents and their teachers, care about them. We’re just there to listen. I had tears in my eyes when I had to say goodbye to my kids last year, and they did, too.

“This is something I would rather do than almost anything else.”

The volunteers say they see the students making definite progress, and the children say they look forward to their Monday visitors.

“I like how we get to experience books with them,” said Kim Williams, age 7. “It’s really kind of cool because they can teach us something.”

Plus, she confided, her reading buddy is “really funny.”

Emma Spickard, age 7, said she has learned new reading skills: “It’s a real joy to read out loud to someone who is really listening. I’m an only child, so I usually read to myself. This has taught me to read aloud, to use my voice more.”

Seven-year-old Nick Stahl, who’s a fan of “The Magic Treehouse” series, said he thinks it’s neat reading to grownups, especially since “you get to choose which books you will read to them.”

The volunteers say it’s wonderful to run into the children at the grocery store, the library or downtown.

“What has surprised me is the openess of the children and their willingness to read to a stranger,” said volunteer Joan Pratt, who has a second-grade grandson at Ordway. “They are very warm and really eager to learn.

“They are so proud and so open, and it’s just terrific.”

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