By Bob Ball
The third-grade teacher is letting her students read for fun. It’s 1945, and the children are sitting at desks in the Detroit classroom, reading quietly. One is reading a Winnie-the-Pooh story. In Owl’s house, the room is tilting. Things are falling. In the classroom, the boy begins to laugh uncontrollably. The girl in front of him raises her hand and complains to the teacher. The teacher scolds the boy.
Decades later, Vicksburg’s Indian Lake Elementary has a different outlook: Leisure reading is important. It should be pleasant. Students should want to read for leisure, for pleasure, and in pleasant surroundings.
Teachers and a retired administrative assistant have outfitted a room in the building just for the purpose.
It’s green, outdoorsy, woodsy, mountains on the horizon. It’s furnished with tents. Boats to sit in. Comfortable chairs. A turtle has come out of the water. Not a live one. There’s a plant. Not real. There’s a fire ring. The flames are inflatable. Cool.
The space, adjacent to the library, was last used as a computer room. It was unneeded when students were issued their own Chromebooks. “So, the room needed a new purpose,” said third-grade teacher Diana Haring.
Changes to the room came from a $1,000 Bardeen teacher incentive grant awarded by the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation, Haring said, “to encourage new thinking and ideas that will enhance student learning.” Other donations, some from the teachers, also helped. The Bardeen grants are administered by the school foundation and given annually to teachers or staff with a special project that can’t easily be funded by school operating monies.
Sue Haines, a former administrative assistant who retired last year, “played a key role in designing and creating of the Reading Room,” Haring said. Haines painted it. The room is dedicated to her.
The Reading Room, Haring said, is used by all in the school, students and staff. It provides a place to read individually, with a friend, in small groups or even with an entire class. Guest readers have come to the room to share their favorite stories.
Vicksburg school board members were provided a tour after their monthly meeting that is held once a year at Indian Lake Elementary.
Haring pointed out that much of a school day teaches students what they need to know to become critical readers, from the knowledge that it’s “imperative” that students see reading as enjoyable and fulfilling. It’s clear from research that leisure reading improves comprehension, vocabulary, general knowledge and empathy for others.
Repurposing the room was her idea, she acknowledges, but she’s not concerned with the credit. “I had help and support from others.” She was inspired by a twice-read book. “After re-reading the ‘Book Whisperer’ by Donalyn Miller, I was inspired to awaken the inner reader in students.”