A set of crowns and tiaras. A royal red carpet rolled out for the dignitaries to walk on and wobble chairs to sit upon. A royal wave as the music bursts through the air. If you’re thinking you missed a parade recently, June Jubilee has not come this early. This is Alyssa Morlock’s kindergarten students hosting their Royal Readers during February’s “I Love to Read” month.

The students excitedly pulled out royal dress-up clothes for the visitors to wear, laid out the red carpet and prepared their royal waves and welcome. The guests on Feb. 13 were five high school students from English teacher and drama director Beth Hawkins’ class, who each shared a favorite childhood book. While students leaned in to listen, the sounds of stories filled the room with books about dinosaurs, superheros, Mary Poppins, bears and a teacher.

“Anytime that we can have family involvement in the classroom it helps immensely just with the kids feeling supported within the classroom,” Morlock said.

As a part of the district-wide and national “I Love to Read” month, Morlock hosts family members and adults special to a student in her Royal Readers program, which she has been doing for 14 years, six of them at WDC, and with inspiration from her mom’s kindergarten classroom. Morlock said other kindergarten classrooms have the program too, and teachers throughout the elementary and middle/high school have involved their students and themselves in creative ways to encourage reading.

“There’s so many different kinds of books is another great thing too because we have families bring in one of their favorite books from home so I see new books, my students see new books and then we get just this exposure to lots of really wonderful things,” Morlock said.

The kindergarten students also ask their guests readers if reading is important, find out what the high school students answered by watching the video online.

The English Language Arts committee also suggested 20 ways for teachers to use the 2020 theme of “Clearly, we are readers,” including checking out 20 books from the library, dropping everything and reading for 20 minutes, spotlighting different students or authors and flashlight reading, according to district media specialist Loni Niles. When students have flashlight reading, Niles said they might go into Memorial Auditorium for this special time.

“(The month is) … a fun way to celebrate reading and spend the winter months that might otherwise be dreary,” Niles said, who is the organizer and heart and soul behind "I Love to Read" month as fellow staff members shared.

During the month, elementary principal Louis Rutten enjoys seeing students get excited about books by having guest readers, studying authors and having dress up days on Fridays. The preschool and Early Childhood Family Education department hosted a “Cozy Up and Read” event with gym time, stories, crafts, cookies, music and a free book, according to a Facebook post. Mystery readers, super readers, reading games and Eric Carle-themed activities and books also appeared throughout the month.

And if fun and creativity wasn’t high enough during “I Love to Read” month, elementary art teacher Bethany Danielson drew a bookmark for the third year, according to Niles and Danielson. Danielson began creating the bookmark based on the year's theme after a guest author gave students a bookmark four years ago. While the bookmark may just seem like a random piece of paper, she says students are excited to keep this item to use for reading or coloring as well as starting conversations with Danielson about her enjoyment of reading. Throughout the year, she reads books that include illustrations to her kindergarten and first grade art students as a way of tying the values of reading and art together.

As a way of celebrating "I Love to Read" month, elementary art teacher Bethany Danielson shared her talents by creating a bookmark based on the theme, "Clearly, we are readers."
Photo courtesy of Loni Niles
As a way of celebrating "I Love to Read" month, elementary art teacher Bethany Danielson shared her talents by creating a bookmark based on the theme, "Clearly, we are readers." Photo courtesy of Loni Niles

“Enjoy a good book,” Rutten said. “There’s lots of ways to enjoy them, reading with your kids or listening to books on tape in the car or audio books. I mean there’s lots of ways that weren’t available to us as when we were growing up and now there’s lots of different ways to enjoy a good book.”

Students at the elementary can enjoy reading a free book after meeting their grade level's reading goal, according to Niles. Title 1 teacher Carol Tornquist orders various books for the different grade levels, such as fiction, nonfiction, early readers, picture books and short chapter books. The kindergarten grade goal is to read 15-20 books a month at home, according to Morlock.

"Each classroom teacher will get enough books for each child to have one. It is mainly at teachers discretion as to how to reward the class/students. Some classes make an in-school effort to read. Not all students have parent support available at home and we try to be sensitive to that," Morlock said in an email.

The middle/high school also participates in the enjoyment and value of reading with the dress up days and questionnaires answered by faculty members. The questionnaires were organized by Niles and Hawkins, with about 25 answers posted outside of faculty members' doors at the middle/high school and district office. Staff members chose from three questions: “What’s your perfect vision for a reading environment?” “Looking back, what was a book or genre that you enjoyed reading?” “Looking ahead, what is something that’s on your reading list?” When one teacher who is expecting their first child chose the looking forward question, Niles laughed at seeing the titles of “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” and “Goodnight Moon.”

“I think if you see that everybody reads and we don’t just read books some people prefer reading magazines or newspapers, that there’s more to read than books and that it’s not a punishment, that people find joy in reading their entire lives. I think that’s an important thing,” Hawkins said.

The future effects of reading are important for students of all grade levels. Middle/high school principal Tyler Church says reading will open “so many opportunities” for students and is a value taught all year round. For example, he sees how Niles aims to have students in the library and getting a book in their hands, sixth-grade teacher Lori Grendahl highlighting the value and seventh-eighth-grade English teacher Krista Coyle challenging her students to read as many novels as possible in a year.

“It’s a good reminder for us adults in the building, too, to just step back and we get pretty overwhelmed with life and everything that we need to do but it’s a good reminder to, ‘Hey, grab a book at home before you go to bed and do a little reading on your own.' We’re stressing to kids the importance of it and so to model that for the kids I think is pretty important as well,” Church said.

Students can continue showing their interest in reading at the middle school book fair to end the month, with jungle decorations by paraprofessional Michelle Peterson. The book fair will run from Feb. 24-28 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Friday in the high school media center. The event is open to the public and students can also receive book prizes at the fair.

What is important about teaching students the value of reading?

  • Tyler Church: “It applies to everything. I mean, it’s the most important task we teach our kids. You know, we stress reading and math obviously with what we do and they both apply to lots of things in life, but that reading piece is a skill that the kids have to have to be successful no matter what job they go into, whether they go into a four-year school, a two-year school, go straight to work, into the military, whatever.”

  • Beth Hawkins: "The value of reading is, well, I just love to read so I’m a bit of an anomaly there, that reading has always been something that has made me happy but it’s an escape. If you’re having a bad day you can read and you get to leave that bad day but if you’re having a great day it can put you in a better mood. You just get to see the world in a different way."

  • Alyssa Morlock: “Reading is vital to everything so helping them have that buy in at an early age is really important for our kids to just see the value in reading and the reason that we’re teaching them to read is it’s a lifelong skill. The other thing, too, is sometimes within the school system repetition can become tedium and we don’t want that with reading, we want them to see the value, the excitement, the joy, the fact that a book can take them wherever they need to go.”

  • Loni Niles: “Reading is something that a person can do their entire life, they can enjoy reading when they are long past their school days. So I feel it’s also a wonderful way to get information besides just being a nice pastime so it is really important that we teach students to enjoy the pastime of reading, I guess, too not just using it to take tests and get information but to also love to read.”

  • Louis Rutten: “It just is so important for them as a life skill, I mean we try to make sure they have good foundation with learning to read as they, you know, go into k and 1 and 2 and then by the time they’re established readers then they’re able to read to learn, so the learning to read and then reading to learn concept of why we are wanting this habit … or skill is most important, I would think.”

  • Superintendent Lee Westrum in an email: "Reading is an important skill and it is important to practice that skill by reading books that peak your interest. Making reading fun for students builds reading skills while exploring interesting topics, faraway lands or fantastic tales from imaginary places. Reading opens the mind to big ideas and new worlds, which is something that everyone can benefit from."