The power of story-telling

October 30, 2014

CHILOQUIN — As 14-year-old Lydia Jackson read the book “Storm Boy” to Chiloquin Elementary students, she kept smiling and grinning. As she read aloud and showed the children the pictures, her eyes sparkled and her face expressed the excitement on the pages.

Lydia was one of the Chiloquin High School students who volunteered to read to kindergartners, first-graders, second-graders and third-graders at the StORytime event Wednesday.

“I love little kids. I love to read, so I’ll go read with little kids,” Lydia said of her decision to volunteer. As a reader herself, Lydia said she loves when she finds a good story. “I was always told as a little kid it’ll help enhance your mind. It’ll help them out and get better. I was happy to read.”

Sharing a love of reading with younger children is what Wednesday’s event was all about, said Nancy Golden, chief education officer with the Oregon Education Investment Board. The statewide program teaches families how to use talking, playing, singing and reading to build vocabulary and literacy skills in young readers.

“How many people here have a little brother or sister?” Golden asked the children. “This campaign — called StORytime: any day anywhere — is about how we help our little brothers and little sisters learn all the skills they need, so when they get to kindergarten they can be super readers like these guys.”

Chiloquin challenges

In 2012, Chiloquin Elementary was one of the local schools named a “priority school,” meaning it scored in the bottom 5 percent of the state. On the Oregon state school report cards released earlier this month, Chiloquin Elementary earned an overall Level 1, the lowest rank. It dropped from a Level 3 last year.

These are tough challenges for the rural kindergarten to sixth-grade elementary. Having the StORytime event Wednesday may help get students excited about reading and help the school’s overall scores, supporters hope.

“We know that our kids have been struggling to stay up on meeting the standards people expect them to,” said Kathy Hill, the Klamath Tribal council member who came to the event and spoke to the children. “And sometimes parents just don’t know what to do to help their kids. So this, to me, is an exciting time because something as small as telling stories, or singing songs or reading stories, just those activities of interaction expands their vocabulary and makes them better readers, which helps them to succeed later.”

Chiloquin is one of five communities chosen for events kicking off the statewide StORytime program with the aim of getting students reading at grade level by third grade. Students who are not reading at that level by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school, according to the StORytime website.

“We look for communities where we think this could really be beneficial for them, that having an infusion of books would matter,” Golden said. “We looked at communities that are really working very hard to improve achievement for their students.”

Looking forward

While Wednesday’s event was a celebration of reading and learning, supporters of StORytime are not stopping there. They hope it will be the start of increasing success for Chiloquin children.

“I believe what we’ll see is communities really working side-by-side with schools and understanding that together they both have a critical part in building those critical pre-literacy skills,” Golden said.

“I think we’ll see more kids thinking it’s fun to read and realizing how rewarding it can be,” Hill said. “I’m expecting to see a year from now, a lot of enthusiasm and also the enthusiasm that goes to their younger siblings.”

Even Lydia, the teenager reading to the younger children, hoped literacy will catch on.

“I hope that they’ll really like it and want to read,” she said.

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