Smart cereal, secret codes and mystery readers
By Meg Ferrente
Scented candles. Wind chimes. Lamp light. Colorful rugs. Blue cloth billowing from the ceiling lights to soften the glare and cast a sky-colored hue on the room. Inspirational quotes on the wall: “Dear God, open my heart so that the whole world can fall in.”
No, it’s not Madison’s newest day spa. It’s Monica Semrad and Lindsay Peaster’s Language Literacy Connection classroom, a new-this-year collaborative program to help ensure reading and writing success for all primary school students in Morgan County.
The teachers spent all summer expanding their reading library, researching entertaining literacy activities and tweaking the room’s relaxing atmosphere, all in the name of building their students’ chances to become good readers. “I want them all to just love reading,” Peaster said. And for the next few hours, she and Semrad proceed to teach as if their very salaries depend on it.
Semrad is sitting with 1st grader Lillian Halloway, sliding small rainbow-colored plastic tiles around the table. Semrad points, each one representing a different phonetic sound.
“If this one is “puh” and this one is “eahh” and this is “chuh…”
“Peach!” Halloway says, before Semrad can even ask the question. Semrad moves the “puh” tile and Lillian is on it immediately. “Each!”
“The stars are ringing... you're tearing the table up you're so smart.” Semrad says, shaking her head in amazement. “Mmm, mmm, mmm!”
Halloway continues to get each example correct and Semrad continues to make a fuss. A big one.
“Did you read all these words last night when I didn't know about it? Can you see my paper? Are you peeking?”
Halloway’s toothless smile is contagious. She wrinkles her nose, throws her head back to laugh.
“I don't know what to do,” Semrad groans. “I don’t have a word here hard enough for you today.”
Semrad reaches up to sound the wind chime and the kids scramble from their various centers to join circle time with Speech and Language Pathology teacher Peaster.
“Thumb’s up if you read the whole time,” Peaster says to the kids who have come from listening to books on tape or looking at their book baskets. “Now let’s have some celebrations.…”
“I listened to the owl say whoo-whoo-whoo,” says Jordan Lawrence.
“I got all my tiles right,” says Dreshawna Reese.
“I was building stam. In. A…” pronounces Alan Morales. Building stamina is a main goal for these budding readers.
“Kiss your brain, you are so smart,” Peaster crows.
It's Friday morning. For Morgan County High School Head Football Coach Bill Malone, that means he's on his way to the primary school. Again. And he's not alone, either.
Accompanied by red-shirted, muscular young men with nomikers such as Beast, Goat and Superstar, Malone heads to Monica Semrad and Lindsay Peaster's classroom, where his dedicated group of senior gridiron stars will become mystery readers for a class of first graders.
The boys aren't novices. They've been reading to different groups of pre-kindergarten and first grade students on Friday mornings for several weeks. They carefully fold their grown-up sized bodies into the small chairs, and look diligently through the classroom library of books to find the perfct book for this morning's reading time.
Brandon Rivers chooses "Clifford's Family," a book about Clifford the Big Red Dog's small-in-stature but big-on-love family. Rivers, himself a "big red dog" of sorts, reads aloud carefully and with inflection. Just as P.J. Stovall, Ryan Glosson and Bo Cochran have done before him. The children, paying careful attention, love the story and solicit comments whenever possible.
Clay Duvall finishes the morning with "The Giving Tree." It's an appropriate choice for these boys.
"We want to be role models," Duvall said, following the morning's session.
"We care about the community," echoed Rivers. "We care about more than football."
Stovall and Glosson asked Malone last week if they could become mentors at the primary school.
They want to be more than superstars on the football field, they both agreed.
"This makes us look at what we might have done if someone had done the same for us. It might have made a difference," Stovall said.
Glosson, or Goat, as the young students know him, grinned in agreement.
"We make kids smile," he said.
As well as enjoy reading. Because it's important. It'll help you, Rivers told the students.
And in some ways, reading is much like the game of football, Stovall explained.
"The more you do it, the better you get."