GWINN - Students across the country are putting down the television remote and picking up a book as they participate in National Reading Month.
Locally, a number of Americorps members are doing their part to help engender a love of reading in young kids and help those struggling to hit their grade level in reading.
"We work with kids who generally wouldn't get the extra help," said Americorps member Dianne Jarvi, who works with students in Gilbert Elementary School in Gwinn. "With testing, they're just below where they should be. The idea is to catch them early and help them work up to what we call benchmark."
From left, Abbey Cramer and Jaiden Andrews, fourth-graders at Gilbert Elementary School in Gwinn, discuss a book they’ve read recently. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
Incorporated into that work is this month's Reading Rodeo at Gilbert, which offers students a variety of reading activities to participate in throughout March and culminates in a special event Tuesday evening, when the school will be open for families to attend and see what their children have been working on.
"The main goal is to get the kids excited about reading and to have them read outside of school," Jarvi said. "Their goal is to read at least 20 minutes a day, five days a week."
Students have their parents sign slips which say how much time they spent reading at home the day before. The slips are given to the students' teachers daily, and any student who has read for at least 20 minutes is recognized with a cowboy cutout that's taped to the classroom door.
Any student who has read for 300 minutes or more at the end of the month will also receive a special prize.
Jarvi said the school's goal is to reach 72,000 minutes of reading among its student body for the entire month.
"We're really trying to encourage them to read outside of class and read for fun," she said.
The school is also hosting a weekly school-wide book swap called the "Reading Corral."
"Kids bring in books they don't want anymore, and however many books they bring in, they get to take that many home," Jarvi said.
The main focus of Americorps this year is on enhancing literacy skills, so March has become the go-to month for Jarvi and fellow Americorps member Kevin Harrington, who also works at Gilbert.
The two have their own classroom, where they take a few students at a time to give them the extra push they need to reach their grade level in reading.
Jarvi said the work is incredibly satisfying.
"I had heard about (Americorps) years ago, but I was doing some other things and I found myself, over the summer, looking for something else to do," Jarvi said. "I wanted to start doing something that had a little bit more meaning.
"It just turned out to be a great thing. I really love what I'm doing. You feel like you're doing something worthwhile, trying to help these kids become better readers."
Harrington said this month especially highlights the work he and Jarvi have been doing since the school year began.
"It goes along with the program we're trying to use with reading and improving reading, so it helps get them interested in reading," Harrington said. "One of the things we do is progress monitoring. We do testing, we (just) did the mid-year testing for the program that we use. We saw a lot of good progress with the kids. It's making, I think, a big difference."
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.