Books bring us together
What could bring an Olympic gold medalist, an RCMP officer, a university president and about thirty kids all together? A love of books and a desire for higher learning did the trick at Calgary Reads, a program aimed at improving children’s literacy.
A number of volunteers from all over Calgary, including a representative of the Calgary Police Service, were present at the book reading on Jan. 24 at Richmond School.
Children were organized into small groups with volunteers who read stories to them. The presentation featured two main figures who read books to the eager crowd — Mount Royal University president David Docherty, and Olympic gymnast Kyle Shewfelt.
The president read a book called The Amazing Book Eating Boy, which was about a little boy who, instead of reading books, ate them in one bite and grew smarter the more books he ate.
“Before long, he could do his father’s crossword in the newspaper. He was even smarter than his teacher at school!” Docherty read, as children gasped in disbelief.
Calgary Reads started with about twenty volunteers and was involved in only three schools in Calgary. Now it has expanded to 90 schools in Calgary, with around 400 dedicated and trained volunteers who help improve the reading skills of kids selected by those schools.
Steacy Collyer, executive director of the program, said it was just an idea when they first began in 1998. “We recognized that many, many schools were in need of volunteers who would come in and read with their children,” Collyer said.
“But most teachers did not have time to train their volunteers and teach them what to do when sitting with a young brand–new reader.”
Special volunteers who are notable figures in the community are also able to inspire kids and get them excited about reading.
“Our next reader has a gold medal from the Olympics, but do you know what? He also loves books!” stated a teacher who introduced Shewfelt to the kids.
Shewfelt also read to the children, from a book called The Interrupting Chicken that caused explosions of laughter from the kids.
Afterwards, he gave all the kids a chance to see his gold medal and touch it as they walked out of the gym, with a free bag full of books and other surprises.
At the conference, the children were completely engaged, asking questions, laughing and gasping with every joke and surprise.
All kinds of volunteers are helping the organization and make relationships with the children to encourage a love of books. Through this program there have been vast improvements. Docherty pointed out that when it comes to reading, it’s important that kids don’t fall behind.
“If they can catch kids that are falling behind now, then they can get them caught up and reading at the right level,” Docherty said. “We save ourselves all kinds of time, effort and problems later.”
Docherty explained that, due to the university’s bachelor of education, MRU students are also benefitting from Calgary Reads. “We are getting our students who will become teachers involved in the ground level. This is part of the curriculum,” he said.
“We need to make sure people understand that literacy is an important thing. For us as an institution, as a university, we obviously believe that,” Docherty said.