Wellington athletes will become reading stars for younger students

By Catherine Gabe - cgabe@civitasmedia.com

Sean Arno still remembers the first time someone jacked a home run out of the park.

“Those are things you never forget that you see when you’re a kid,” the Wellington High School assistant principal said. “You realize the connection that you can’t go to college unless you have the grades to go with it.”

Athletes plus reading equals a home run for Westwood Elementary students, who will soon get to hear their idols read stories to them.

Starting Jan. 29, high school students will walk over to Westwood and crack open a few books.

“Reading is huge and we have to do a better job as a community getting that done for our kids,” said Paul Holland, Westwood Elementary principal.

Students, athletes, and later many in choir, band, and other extracurricular activities will be the student readers.

“It’s our hope that our students can see some of their idols, their rock stars” and by “mixing with them they’ll see this is a pretty cool thing,” Holland said.

The idea is the brainchild of Dan Gundert, Dukes varsity basketball coach and a third grade teacher at Westwood. Gundert said they might take advantage of how athletes are revered.

“I see how much impact older students have and how the elementary kids look up to them,” Gundert said. “You can see it in their faces how much it means to them. I thought it would be a great idea for them to be a role model for reading in their lives.”

“For kids to sit there and listen as students read to them is great,” Arno said. “It lets your imagination run wild.” Research shows the importance of getting students to read early, he said.

However, it’s harder to do today: “We’re saturated with so many images and dealing with instant information it’s harder to get kids to even consider reading. The patience level isn’t there. That’s why it’s important. Reading is huge.”

Reading assessments are being done now to see where youth are at with their reading levels. A survey is also going out across the district to make sure there is literacy across the curriculum for every student.

Westwood staff are encouraging students to read at least 20 minutes a day, Gundert said.

“If they see people they look up to — their role models reading — they are going to want to model the same thing,” he said. “We just want to encourage them with how big of an impact reading has at this level and how much it can help in their educational journey.”

Holland has already tapped some older readers for the students including superintendent Dennis Mock and treasurer Michael Pissini.

“There’s not many school treasurers that get to say they read to the kids,” said Pissini, who has enjoyed his time reading to youngsters.

Catherine Gabe can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @ReporterGabe on Twitter.

By Catherine Gabe