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Rotary Readers: Volunteers spend lunchtime reading with third-graders

By Linda Vanderwerf Staff Writer When the cows in his barn get their hooves on an old typewriter, a farmer's life takes an interesting turn. "Click, Clack, Moo" is what the farmer hears all day as his cows learn to type, and it's the name of one ...

By Linda Vanderwerf

Staff Writer

When the cows in his barn get their hooves on an old typewriter, a farmer's life takes an interesting turn.

"Click, Clack, Moo" is what the farmer hears all day as his cows learn to type, and it's the name of one of Anthony Hunstad's favorite books.

Anthony, 9Β½, read the book with his buddy Mike Gramm this week. Gramm is a volunteer with the Rotary Readers program at Jefferson Elementary School in Willmar.

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Anthony can describe the story in detail. Eventually, the cows start writing notes to the farmer. They ask for electric blankets to keep them warm at night in the cold, cold barn, but it's only the start of the demands from the barn. The chickens want blankets, too, and then the ducks demand a diving board.

On a warm spring day, Anthony agreed to forgo a busy playground to read with Gramm in the school library. He had his baseball glove with him, though.

Rotary Readers started in December, after child guide Christine Hilbert visited with the Willmar Lakes Rotary about the need for men who could spend time reading with third-grade boys.

Principal Beckie Simenson came up with the idea after she spoke at a Rotary meeting last year about the district's expanded kindergarten program.

"They said, 'Let us know if we can do anything,'" Simenson said. So she made a request on behalf of third-grade boys in need of some additional mentoring.

Mike Burgett is the Rotarian who recruits the volunteers. A core group of eight men have attended regularly, and several others have subbed when needed. Each volunteer goes to the school one day a week, either Tuesday or Wednesday.

Burgett is now asking some of the female Rotary members to volunteer to read with girls.

"There are lots of students who would like to have a Rotary Reader," Simenson said.

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"It's like most volunteer things; you get more out of it than you put in," Burgett said. "It's been a real positive experience."

The men said they believe they have seen their young friends' reading skills improve.

Anthony is "more familiar with words, and he's putting context together," Gramm said. Before, the effort of figuring out individual words could get in the way of understanding sentences, he said, but that's not a problem anymore.

Burgett said his friend, Jon Habedank, has also improved.

Jon and River Pendelton, both 9, listed the Dumb Bunnies books as some of their favorites, along with books about The Stupids. Anthony mentioned Dumb Bunnies as a prime choice, too.

The adults agreed that those books are good ones. Silly and fun, they seem to appeal to the young boys and the older ones as well.

River said the books they read with their buddies are "little, easy books." While that may be the case sometimes, the important thing is that they are reading aloud.

The time limits of the lunch hour may also dictate using shorter books, but as Anthony pointed out, they read "mostly the cool ones."

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Burgett and Gramm said they enjoy watching the boys improve and seeing their commitment to the program. The boys are volunteers, too.

"They're giving up recess," Gramm said. "That's a pretty big deal."

They "sweeten the deal," he said, by taking a little time to play checkers or chess after reading.

While his young friend learned about chess, he was a little flexible with regulations, Burgett said, but Jon has gotten a good handle on the game lately.

"We had some pretty good chess battles the last two weeks," he said.

The games were to be a way for the men to break the ice with students at first, and "it's just blossomed," Simenson said. "They're teaching them that higher-level thinking, too."

Now, boys will sit down for a quick game of chess some days before school, she said.

The boys said they feel they enjoy reading more and spend more time reading on their own since Rotary Readers started.

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At home, they read "chapter books," they said. Jon added that the Star Wars book he's reading at home has 150 pages and "little tiny print like in the newspaper."

Hilbert said she has been pleased with the response to her request last year.

"We're so grateful to the Rotary Readers," she said.

The children benefit from the program on many levels, she said.

"Not only does it help their reading skills, it's the role modeling," she said. The readers "have been real good about being flexible and patient" with their third-grade partners, she added.

"The extra reading time is valuable," she added. "The more they read, the better they get."

Hilbert and Simenson said they hope the program can continue next year.

The Rotary members seem to enjoy the time in school, Hilbert said.

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"It changes the whole pace of the day," she said. "There's always that honesty that children bring to a conversation that you don't get with adults."

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