WAXAHACHIE — Reading at school just got cooler as Northside Elementary added a new area for their Reading Oasis program. The designated literature zone combines a community atmosphere, complete with squishy bean bags and comfy benches, access to countless books, and an invite for the whole family to join.

“We donated the beanbags, the books, and there are online resources for parents too so they can connect. It just makes it really easy because they don’t have to worry about providing anything, they can just come in and not be worried about supplies and give their kids a good place to read,” stated Jolie Hartmann, Administrative Assistant of Ellis County’s United Way.

A READING OASIS

Providing resources along with the generous donations of Ellis County United Way, Baylor Scott and White Medical Center — Waxahachie also contributed funds through Club Connect to encourage the love of reading for the kids at Northside.

“The question I always get is, ‘What is Club Connect?’ It’s an opportunity for parents, teachers, and students to engage in the process of reading outside of the structure of the library, yet within the school. It can be an incentive for teachers, and it provides physical books for the kids, and online access to an almost infinite amount of resources and reading curricula that kids can read,” explained Patrick Wilson, Ellis County District Attorney and management board member of Ellis County’s United Way.

“Club Connect’s mission is to equip early grade reading levels. It’s crucial that they get to a reading level by third grade. And what Northside is providing now is a Reading Oasis that gives them a space to come in and have fun. It’s kid-friendly, and they can read with their families,” Hartmann added.

In alignment with Hartmann and Wilson, Club Connect is a program that provides resources to support the core strategies needed to drive success for schools in need of books, online educational activities, and parent engagement. This enables the community and other organizations to adopt a school and drive young minds towards their reading success.

As stated by United Way, children with access to books have the chance to become engaged and capable readers. Club Connect includes installation of a Scholastic Reading Oasis, with hundreds of books in each school.

Along with a diverse collection of stories, Club Connect also offers a safe online resource that engages children in a variety of reading activities to support their growth. Parents can additionally get involved by reading to their children at the Northside location and receiving emails containing coupons, incentive programs, and suggestions on how to increase their involvement in their child’s reading progress.

“The program gets more parental involvement to come in. It provides free books for families that can’t afford it, and they don’t have to worry about bringing books home, it’s all right here at their school. And it’s a good reminder too, because once kids get home, there’s a lot of distractions from their phones or video games, and this gives them a place to read while they’re still here,” Hartmann complimented the program’s value.

Bringing the ceremony to order, Northside Principal, Jennifer Burns, hosted the ceremony, inviting a few key students and officials to speak on behalf of the new program. Among the students who presented, Student Council President, Bryten Burns, and Student Council Vice President, Macy Murphree, thanked the donors for the installation of their new school program.

“We’d like to thank the Reading Oasis for a healthy, happy and cozy place to sit down a read a book,” Murphree acknowledged.

“We’d also like to give a huge thank you to the Ellis County United Way, and Baylor Scott and White Hospital in Waxahachie for sponsoring this wonderful program. I personally love to read, and I’m sure the students will enjoy the Reading Oasis for years to come,” added Burns with a smile.

As students performed their reading skills through a Reader’s Theater style of “The Three Little Bears – Cha, Cha, Cha,” and a duet tag-team of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” the event was a total success with much applause.

WHY READING MATTERS

Among the many things a child needs, reading is at the top of the list. Benefitting a child neurologically, educationally, psychologically, socially, and linguistically – reading supports healthy brain function in an array of ways.

“It’s important because reading proficiency is important and something I learned yesterday, kids up to the age of the third grade are learning to read, and from third grade on they are reading to learn. I think that’s a profound statement, but it hits the nail on the head. Reading is very important,” Wilson remarked on the significance of reading.

According to Teach Reading Early, A child’s proficiency in reading enables them to comprehend more of what they understand. They also become competent researchers, who can study effectively and extract relevant and necessary information from books, magazines, websites or other sources of information – all of which Northside’s Reading Oasis encourages.

In fact, the process of learning has a profound influence on the entire functioning and development of the brain. As children expand their reading skills, they have a greater general knowledge, developing their vocabulary and become more fluent readers. They also have improved attention spans and better concentration.

“According to one statistic, kids that don’t hit that third-grade proficiency level are four times more likely to not graduate from high school. So reading is fundamental, and I think Dr. Seuss said it best, ‘The more that you read, the more that you will know, and the more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.’ Truer words have never been spoken with such simple elegance,” Wilson grinned.

Although history tends to repeat itself, the Reading Oasis is putting forth the effort to prevent backsliding students, and instead, inspire their futures.

“Back in 1993, there was a document published, called, A Nation At Risk. In there, it came out of the Reagan Administration, there was a pretty alarming clause, and I’ll paraphrase, it said, ‘If another country treated our kids the way they’re treated in the public education system, we would consider it an act of war,’” stated Jeremy Glenn, WISD Superintendent.

“It led to massive education reform through the 80s and into the 90s. What came out of that report was that we have to do better, we have to make sure kids have the basics skills in education through our public school systems,” he added.

Coming full circle, Glenn and his executive cabinet attended and listened to Governor Abbott’s State-of-the-State Address, speaking on the old issue with a new phrase, “school choice.”

In an explanation from EdChoice, it states that school choice allows public education funds to follow students to the schools or services that best fit their needs — whether that’s a public school, private school, charter school, home school or any other learning environment – and parents can choose the best educational route for their kids.

“Fundamentally as an educator, we all believe in ‘school choice,’ whether you’re in the public or private sectors, or charter schools, nobody’s arguing against school choice, every parent should have the ability to send their kid to the institution they feel will best educate their child. And so we believe in that,” Glenn confirmed.

“In terms of education, America ranks 17 nationally regarding educating kids. It’s a little misleading because we’re one of the few countries that educate every child and doesn’t matter what state you live in if you’re inside an American city, there’s going to be a school there and you can enroll your child in it,” he continued.

“We’re one of the few countries that will take every kid, and not only that, but every kid’s score counts. It doesn’t matter how disabled you are – there is a test for you and that test counts. And that’s unique to the United States,” he added, further saying that in terms of high school graduates jumping into the workforce, instead of going to college, rank number one in creativity and innovation between the ages of 25 and 35.

“So our kids may not be nailing the standardized tests coming out of high school, but we’re teaching such a diverse, well-rounded foundation, where they can think outside of the box and bring innovation,” Glenn smiled.

Teaching children to read may not only benefit their academic career but will absolutely add value to their futures.

“I think Dr. C. Everett Koop, who is the U.S. Surgeon General said, ‘Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege, than the raising of the next generation.’ Community partnerships like Baylor Scott and White and the Ellis County United Way, they’re so critical to what we do, and as technology and education continue to evolve, it’s important that we remember the fundamentals of education,” Glenn expressed.

Adding to the importance of reading, Chris York, the President of Waxahachie’s Baylor Scott and White Medical Center — Waxahachie, explained that he has already witnessed the effect of the program’s success.

“Today is special for me because I was on the job for about a year and I was sitting at a Waxahachie High School football game on a Friday night. My son plays and I was totally in the zone and wasn’t having a conversation with anybody, even my wife who was sitting right next to me — I was so solely focused on watching my son,” York began.

“At halftime, I was sitting there, reliving the first-half and I get this tap on my shoulder, and Macy Murphree comes up to me, which she had taken it upon herself that she and her friends raised a little over six dollars at half-time to go towards the hospital and help out because she had some loved ones come to our hospital for our care, and I was unbelievably grateful for that. It’s just special that Macy is taking part in this today. It’s a tremendous blessing to be a part of this program. We’re here to celebrate these amazing administrators and educators who encourage these students.” he finished, acknowledging the outstanding character of Northside students.

As for the future of the elementary, the Reading Oasis is just the beginning of their students’ unfolding reading success and influential impact in today’s world.

“The work you’re doing here at Northside just made Waxahachie better all the way around, because we now have the Oasis Program here at Northside. We’re raising the level of education across the boards to provide a quality education for our kids. It starts with the people in this room, it starts with those of you coming together and partnering with us and that is so critical,” he finished with a smile.

*Article updated to show Student Council President is Bryten Burns, and Student Council Vice President is Macy Murphree.

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Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer

(469)-517-1450