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Grant allows Bobcat University students to pick out books Thursday morning

T-R PHOTOS BY ROBERT MAHARRY — A group of Bobcat University students who will be entering fourth grade in the fall, along with Elementary Curriculum Director Erica Finders, left, and Fourth Grade Teacher CeCelia Duff, right, pose for a fun photo after picking out books at the Fisher Elementary library on Thursday morning.

Elementary students who have participated in the Marshalltown Community School District’s Bobcat University summer program got a special reward for their efforts on Thursday morning when they took the chance to pick out a handful of books to take home free of charge thanks to a grant from Reading is Fundamental.

In addition to the students in grades K-3 (who will be entering grades 1-4 this fall), fourth grade teacher CeCelia Duff, Mid-Iowa Community Action Site Coordinator Jade Tejada, MCSD Director of Instruction Shauna Smith, Elementary Curriculum Director Erica Finders and Communications Director Abby Koch were all on hand for the occasion and, in Smith’s words, they were excited to see the kids excited about reading.

“When kids can pick their own books, they’re gonna be much more likely to read them,” Finders said. “I think owning a book that’s yours that’s like, new, it’s not used, it’s not a library book, makes a difference too.”

Smith added that having books at home can have a huge impact on kids from families of lower socioeconomic status (according to the Iowa Department of Education, about 68.5 percent of MCSD students qualified for free and reduced lunches during the 2022-2023 school year), and the ownership factor is also key.

“I think this is an excellent activity because they are selecting something they’re interested in, they get to keep it long term, and we’re promoting, then, the entire school year, how important reading is,” she said. “It’s just this opportunity to read when they’re at home that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

The kids gave the selections available to them a thumbs up as they took their picks. The free books were provided through a grant from Reading is Fundamental.

The matching grant — which totaled $16,000, half paid by the district and the other half by Reading is Fundamental — provided a wide range of titles to the kids including popular series like “I Survived,” “Captain Underpants,” “Ramona and Beezus” and “Who Would Win?”

And although not every kid gets fired up about reading or spends each summer day with their nose in a book, Finders believes the enthusiasm they were showing on Thursday can be contagious and spread to their friends once they return to the classroom.

“I’ve seen lots of kids picking books together, you know, like ‘Oh, let’s go get this one.’ I had a girl yesterday come up to me with two of the same chapter book and say she was done, and I was like ‘Why are you getting two of the same one?’ And she’s like ‘Well, one’s for my grandma and one’s for me because we’re gonna read it together,’ and I was like ‘That’s awesome,'” Finders said. “Seeing what books go at what schools, (Smith and I) were like, well, probably peer influence. Some schools, ‘The Fly Guys’ went like crazy or ‘I Survived,’ but others, not so much.”

Harrison Monroe, who is entering fourth grade, was happy to tell the T-R about the books he picked out, “Elephant and Piggie” and “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.” He said he’s read “at least 100” books over the summer, and he hopes all of that work will make him smarter as he works on figuring out a career path.

“I’ve still got nine years,” he said.

Alejandro Rodriguez Miletti, who is also entering fourth grade, left with a backpack full and said he had read a whole box of books over the summer. He was especially excited to pick up a few installments in the “Captain Underpants” series, and his current future plans are to become a YouTuber.

“You can get better at reading and read more chapter books instead of picture books,” he said when asked why it was important to keep reading in the summer.

Lucero Hernandez Gomez has been reading “The Baby-Sitters Club” series over the summer and picked up some “I Survived” titles on Thursday along with “Who Would Win?” and “Captain Underpants.” She thinks she’s about to have a great school year, and she gave the answer of the day when she said she hopes to someday teach in the Marshalltown Community School District, which had Smith and Finders ready to hand her a contract.

Alana Nunez has been a dedicated reader through the summer, learning more through the process. Her biggest goal in the future is to help people, possibly the elderly who need assistance with day-to-day tasks.

It was a great day to celebrate reading in Marshalltown, and the district leaders could feel the contagious energy rubbing off on them.

“It’s just super exciting to watch kids pick books. It’s great,” Finders said.

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Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or

rmaharry@timesrepublican.com.

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