Smart Start’s Read to Me program takes children on a reading journey
By Susan Shinn Turner
Smart Start Rowan
SALISBURY — Last week, more than 30 community members and members of the Smart Start Rowan board fanned out across the county to read in N.C. Pre-K classes and childcare centers.
Smart Start Rowan coordinates these visits for the Read to Me program each year during the Week of the Young Child. This program nearly doubled in size from last year. The week culminated on Saturday with the agency’s annual Early Childhood Conference at First Baptist Church, attended by more than 100 childcare providers in Rowan County.
But the best part might have taken place in the classrooms.
This is Smart Start Rowan board member Jimmy Greene’s third year participating in the Read to Me program.
“On reading day, I showed up and was greeted with all smiles,” he said. “A table full of well-mannered children gazed upon this tall, goofy man. All of their eyes locked in with wonder, worry, shyness, uncertainty, and excitement all rolled into one. After some small talk, we opened our book and began our journey, and it was a wonderful journey!”
Greene added, “I was reminded, as I am every year, about love. The joy of reading to a child will enhance you. It is a blessing. Go share a journey with a child through a book.”
Amy Brown, Smart Start Rowan’s executive director, agreed with Greene.
“The kids love it, and the teachers love it,” she said. “But the folks who get the most of out it are our volunteers who visit the classroom.”
One of those volunteers was Crystal Merck, elementary instructional lead teacher for Rowan-Salisbury Schools. She visited the N.C. Pre-K program at Granite Quarry Elementary School on Friday morning.
“Now sit crisscross, applesauce on your letter,” Merck told the children, as they scrambled to find their spots on the alphabet carpet.
If she sounds like a teacher, that’s because she spent 13 years in the classroom as an elementary school teacher. Coincidentally, she began her career at Granite.
“I can’t see!” more than one child said as they got settled.
“I promised I will show every single person the picture,” Merck said, and she did just that, reading with a variety of animated expressions and volume levels — both of which held the children’s attention.
As she read, she asked the children questions about the story — what the characters were doing, how they were feeling. Thanks to Smart Start Rowan, all volunteers leave the books they read in the classrooms.
“They love to interact and imitate,” lead teacher Teresa Davis said of the children. “This helps build their communication skills. We love for visitors to come. When the children heard we were having a visitor, they dropped everything in their centers and ran for story time.”
“Thank you so much for letting me come and read,” Merck told the children before she left. “I’m so excited about your graduation to big kids’ school. I can’t wait to come back.”
Being in the classrooms is Merck’s favorite part of her job, she said.
“It’s such a privilege to get to do this,” Brown said. “I’ve been out two times this week.”
Meanwhile, over at Cornerstone Child Development Center on Webb Road, Flora Calderon-Steck was reading to a classroom of 18 N.C. Pre-K students. As 11 of the students were Spanish speakers, Calderon-Steck read her book, Margaret Wise Brown’s “Away In My Airplane,” in English and Spanish, translating as she went.
“Muy bien!” she said, as all of the students repeated the Spanish words.
They loved the book’s bright pages, commenting on everything they saw as the airplane flew overhead: the sun, the rain, a mouse, people, a fair. They loved the colorful tent and balloons on that page.
“I’ve been to the fair!” one little girl piped up.
“Isn’t this an exciting book?” Calderon-Steck asked.
One page had many airplanes. She and the children counted together — one, two, three, four, five. They repeated the numbers in Spanish.
“You guys are so good!” Calderon-Steck said.
“I’m so glad a nice number are Spanish speakers,” she said afterward. “They really responded well.”
While the children returned to their centers, Calderon-Steck spent some time visiting with lead teacher Beverly Parker.
“When our Spanish speakers came here at the beginning of the year, they spoke not one word of English,” Parker noted. “Now they are talking to me. It just makes me feel so good. They’re my babies. But I don’t want them to lose that Spanish. I’m gonna learn Spanish so I can communicate with them better.”
“The students were so attentive and engaged, and they used their imaginations,” Calderon-Steck said.
She and Brown walked to the parking lot together.
“That was fun,” she told Brown. “We’ll do it again next year.”
Smart Start Rowan is a United Way member agency.