When volunteers Cindy Smith and Teresa McNiel each closed the books they were reading to Shackleford Elementary students for D.E.A.R. Day, they each ended their 15-minute reading session the same way.
“Now, you’ll tell me how the story ends, won’t you?” they said to bring the importance of reading back into focus.
The moment was followed by a cheer of third and fourth graders saying yes, they would.
The pair have been volunteers for Waxahachie ISD’s Drop Everything
and Read Day since it’s be- ginning 19 years ago, and both have been long-time members of the Partners in Education Advisory Board, which hosts the program. The event, which happened Friday, brings in hundreds of local community leaders, business leaders and parents, dedicated to encouraging reading at a young age by sitting in classrooms for about 15 minutes and sim- ply reading to students.
This year, WISD had more than 500 volunteers reading at all seven elementary campuses and at both junior high schools as well as additional volunteers assisting guests at registration tables, stated Melissa Cobb, the Partners in Education director, via email.
"Look at their face. Did you see them?" McNiel said about the smiles the third graders had on their faces whenever she did a character’s voice from the book. “I like to read, and I like to help anyone who’s struggling to read. Everybody has to read, and unfortunately, for those of us who it comes easy to, we forget what a gift it is. People who have learning differences sometimes have a challenge with that.”
As McNiel sat at the front of a classroom, with children gathered at her feet, she told the story of “White Fur Flies,” by Patricia McLachlan. The story follows Zoe, who is about the same age as the third graders at Shackleford, as she discovers that rescuing dogs and rescuing a neighborhood boy who can’t speak can have some similarities — both taking patience, companion- ship, under- standing and time.
As she imitated the sound of a parrot with a British accent mentioned in the book, the children laughed and even began repeating the bird’s phrases. As she read, she stopped to ask questions to engage the students, asking things like “Do you know what a Great Pyrenees is?” or “Do you know what a veterinarian does?”
“Honestly, I had no clue what that book was initially about, but trying to figure that out, it makes it a little more interesting rather than if they do have just a monotone reader,” she said. “Watching the kids and seeing them getting engaged in the storyline was my favorite part. It’s so much fun.”
Smith felt the same, but her D.E.A.R. Day event for the past five years has been spent surprising
her grandson at school. Though he’s now in fourth grade and may roll his eyes and pretend he doesn’t know his grandmother, Smith said seeing him for those 15 minutes is what makes the moment special.
“It’s special because of him. I get to see his friends and his classmates because he’ll talk about different ones in school,” she said. “There was a little boy there today, and I said, ‘I think I’ve seen you before,’ because I see them in baseball and football, so it’s getting to know who he hangs with.”
Just like McNiel, seeing the smiles on the children’s faces while she reads to them, is one of the best parts, Smith said.
“You get into reading, and you try to understand what they’re thinking,” she said. “And I really do want to know how it ends. And it encourages them to continue reading, absolutely. That’s why I asked afterward if they were going to finish it later, because we want them to finish the book.”
As far as what’s in store for the 20th year of D.E.A.R. Day, both ladies said if there are those in the community who want to participate for the first time, it’s never too late to start and there’s nothing to be afraid of.
“Don’t be apprehensive. Just come read. They’re just kids, and they love to see adults and mentors read to them,” Smith said. “It’s fun and exciting.”
Contact Shelly Conlon at 469-517- 1456 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ shellyconlonwdl.