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The City Journals

BYU athletes kick off literacy night

Mar 08, 2018 04:00PM ● By Jet Burnham

Two football players show they can read (Burnham/City Journals)

Fans of football and BYU lined up to take photos and get footballs signed by BYU freshmen football players Matt Bushman and Bracken El-Bakri. But the athletes drew the biggest crowds as they read stories to families attending Midas Creek Elementary’s Literacy Night. The pair entertained students by using pictures books to inspire their own impromptu tales.

“They just looked at the picture and then—on the fly—just made it up,” said Principal Carolyn Bona. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime story because there’s no way they could repeat it—it was hilarious.” 

Every year BYU athletes are invited to share their love of reading in the story corner at Literacy Night. This year, guest readers also included freshman cheerleaders Breanna Penrod and Jacie Wilkinson as well as volleyball players Tayler Tausinga and Heather Gneiting.

Wilkinson was thrilled to be part of the activity to get to kids excited about reading.

“I grew up with my mom reading to me, so I’ve grown up loving reading,” said Wilkinson.

Bushman, who was recently named to the freshman All-American team, said literacy is even important for learning and memorizing football plays. He believes all kids can follow their passion but hopes they understand they still need to make education a top priority. 

Meline Hansen, a teacher, was impressed the athletes took the time in their very busy schedules to support the school activity. El-Bakri said despite a required 12 credit hours, countless practice hours and traveling, serving the community is still a priority for him and for his fellow athletes. 

Penrod hoped they would set a good example to the elementary students.

“We wanted to show as BYU athletes it’s important to us to read,” she said. 

The other main activity of the Third Annual Literacy Night was a book exchange. 

“Students bring any books they have that they feel like they’ve read too many times,” said Bona. For each book they brought, they could exchange it for a new one to take home. Six long tables were piled with books, separated by grade level, for students to choose from. Bona feels it is important for families to have books at home but realizes it can be expensive. The book exchange fills that need. 

“This is a way for people to get new books without having to spend a dime,” said Bona. “There are a lot of parents that are happy to be able to exchange books versus having to go buy books.” 

For every book brought in for exchange, students also received a raffle ticket. Names were drawn throughout the night for small prizes. 

Bona said another reason the exchange is so popular is that kids get excited to read new books.

Stacy Conley said her kids are more interested in reading books that are new to them. Her 8- and 11-year-olds brought books for the exchange that they have outgrown. As she perused the book tables, she even found books she was excited about—classics like “A Wrinkle in Time” and “Shiloh.” She admitted it was difficult to limit their choices to only 10 new books. 

Those in attendance also played BINGO and enjoyed popcorn.

“We just wanted it to be a fun family event,” said Bona, who said literacy is a yearlong focus at the school.

Bona has adapted the Seven Habits of Highly Successful Students to apply to reading to teach students the skills can be developed through reading.

Midas Creek teachers also use an individualized interactive program called Lexia to engage students in practicing reading skills such as phonics and sight word recognition. 

“It frees us up a little bit so we can do more reading with the kids because they are getting that skill emphasis with Lexia,” said Hansen, who teaches kindergarten.

Additionally, teachers have implemented an intervention program this year called S.P.I.R.E. that uses literacy aides to give individual instruction to struggling readers.