Helping bridge the gap

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 18, 2003

Kindergarten and first-grade students at Neveln Elementary got some guest storytellers this week, as Ellis Middle School eighth-graders shared their lunch periods and some of their favorite childhood books, with the students.

Eighth-grader Kyle Mullenbach said the students responded very well.

"They really liked it," he said. "I was glad to see that."

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He said it is important to show younger students that reading is fun.

"We're like role models," he said. "If we read to them, then they'll read."

Part of the challenge for the eighth graders was finding stories that are both easy to understand and entertaining.

Famous childhood favorites like The Magic School Bus and Dr. Seuss were popular choices.

Eighth-grader Laura Davis said selections from Dr. Seuss brought back memories.

"This was my favorite when when I was a kid," she said. "I just remember my mother reading it."

Dewey Schara, Mullenbach's teacher at Ellis, said seeing older students read creates a "long-lasting impression" for the younger ones.

However, the benefits of this week go beyond that.

Schara said it gave his students the chance to practice their oral interpretation skills, taught them responsibility and provided a "service learning" opportunity. It also helps the teachers.

"It is trying to reinforce the district's goals to improve reading," he said.

Lana Epley, a first-grade teacher, said her students will be doing a similar thing for the kindergarten classes soon.

"I said, 'Now you'll know how to sit and read, and how you want the children to listen to you,'" she said. "They've kind of been our examples."

Her class is a transition class. Many of the students are learning English as a second language, so reading, speaking and understanding can be very difficult for them. This sort of activity is a big help, she said.

"The more English they hear, the more it comes," Epley said. "They have to hear it. They have to be immersed in it."

Superintendent Corrine Johnson, who came Thursday observe the students, said this kind of interaction is important.

"The lower elementary kids love to be around the older kids," she said. "It's really fun for them and it's a really nice collaboration."

Johnson, a former oral interpretation teacher herself, said kindergartners and first-graders can be a tough audience, but in the end, the learning experience is valuable for the middle-schoolers.

"You have to do something besides just reading to keep their attention," she said. "They realize what it takes to give an effective presentation."

Matt Merritt can be reached at 434-2214 or by email at