Students and staff at Windermere Elementary School took time to form a "reading train" to celebrate reading, literacy and the search for new knowledge.

As the clock struck 10:30 a.m. last Thursday, March 2, Windermere Elementary second-grader John Harper blew a conductor's whistle into his school's public address system and announced, "All aboard the Windermere Reading Train."

Subsequently, students throughout the school spilled in orderly fashion out of their classrooms and formed a mostly single-file line meant to represent a train in celebration of the National Education Association's Read Across America Day.

The nationally recognized day was created in honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday, which is March 2, and also serves as an annual reading motivation and awareness program that calls for every child in every community in the U.S. to celebrate reading.

At Windermere, students not only formed the reading train, but they commenced to take seats in the school's hallways and spend the next 15 minutes reading books or stories on their school-issued computer tablets.

"It's about kind of nurturing that reader and having them become lifelong learners," said Emily Adams, a second-grade teacher at Windermere who partnered with school Media Specialist Shannon Hemmelgarn to establish the reading train event last year.

Thursday's activities were just one step in the process of fostering lifelong learners and encouraging students and staff to read.

Not all are as grand, Hemmelgarn said, as she described a program in which older students select a book or story each Wednesday to read to Windermere kindergartners. It's designed to enhance reading fluency, provide public speaking opportunities and boost students' overall confidence.

She added the reading nudges seem to be paying dividends.

"Our total (school media center) circulation for last school year was 13,492, and this year (so far) we are at 13,462," Hemmelgarn said. "I attribute this growth to having great teachers who promote reading and a district who values funded and professionally staffed libraries."

Hemmelgarn said she strives to make reading "awesome and fun," which is part of the reason she and Adams implemented the National Reading Day reading train.

"I find that the more time students spend in the library, they're becoming independent library users," Hemmelgarn said. "We have such a strong library system here. That's such a wonderful resource for them out there."

Some of Windermere's students seemed to agree that reading has taught them a number of valuable lessons.

Second-grader Blake Aschlimm said he enjoys reading sports-themed books and has drawn inspiration from Matt Christopher's "The Kid Who Only Hit Homers."

"He wasn't that good at first, but he kept trying and he became super good," Blake said of the book's main character, Sylvester.

John Harper said he's checked out more than 100 books from the school's media center this school year and noted that reading has given him a better understanding of the world around him and acceptance of people who are different than him.

"It helps me learn and understand harder words," he said.

Hemmelgarn and Adams said promoting reading at Windermere has helped students' academic progress because books and stories can bridge learning gaps and supplement classroom instruction.

"We are curriculum," Hemmelgarn said of libraries and librarians. "We support the curriculum and we help make connections for kids."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

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