BROOKSVILLE — Darryl-Lynne Ilsley's prekindergarten students at Pine Grove Elementary School are voracious readers.
Well, not exactly. At ages 3 and 4, with a couple of 5-year-olds, the children recognize some words and that list is growing. It helps that their teacher and parents read to them a lot.
Ilsley encouraged the parents to read more at home as the children were trying the rack up the books needed to earn the school's green Accelerated Reader T-shirts.
Accelerated Reader, or AR, is a program that tests students' reading comprehension with computerized questions. Students collect points for successful reading and those act as immediate positive feedback.
The prekindergarten students aren't expected to take the tests. To earn their school AR shirts, each child had to have a minimum of 20 books read to him or her at home. As a class, they had to have had a minimum of 400 books read to them.
Using this goal as a launching pad, Ilsley got her students and their parents excited, far exceeding those minimums. Since they began in late October, the students have had more than 3,000 books read to them and hope to make that 5,000 by year's end.
That is why the children have been so successful recognizing words. "They're reading all these books at home," Ilsley said. "That's why these kids are starting to read."
Recently, a group of enthusiastic parents gathered in Ilsley's included-classroom (that is, a combination of age-typical and special-needs students) with their children. "My son would not even let me read to him until we started the program," said Heidi Thieshen about her son Hunter Stack, 5.
Susan Kies, parent of Eleanor Kies, 3, said that all the reading "increases vocabulary and increases understanding of the world around us." Susan and Jeffrey Kies have two other children, 5-year-old Elizabeth and 9-month-old Emily. The parents read to the children as a group. Besides the benefits his wife mentioned, he said, "It's also brought our family closer together."
Kim Dame is mother to 3-year-old Aubree, who is autistic. She said her daughter had trouble sitting still, but that has improved. Aubree enjoys sensory books. "I am just floored about how much she's engaged in it," she said.
The parents report what they have done at home by recording the names of the books on paper crayons that are posted in a big, colorful circle on Ilsley's wall.
When the original letter went out to the parents for help reading at home, Ilsley suggested parents read at least one, or possibly two, books at home. "Some of them are reading multiple books a night," said paraprofessional Dianna Rybka, who, along with paraprofessional Mary Kaither, assists in Ilsley's classroom.
Janine Sanders, parent of Robert Jericho, 4, said, "We're doing it for all the kids. We're making a difference and proving we're actually doing something for our kids at school."
All this reading "is a good foundation," said Susan Kies.
Michael Lang's daughter, Salina Lang, was born nearly three months early and weighed in at 1 pound, 13 ounces. She's outgoing, he said, but hasn't talked much. She seems excited about all the reading, so much so that she instigates it. "At home she'll hand everyone in the house one (a book)," Michael Lang said. "Since she's come to school, she's been doing really well."
Some of the children identified the kinds of books that are their favorites. Johnathan Peterson, 3, likes shark books. Hunter Stack likes dinosaur books. T-rex is his favorite. Salina Lang likes numbers books. April Connor, 5, likes Mickey Mouse and the Cat in the Hat. Emma Whitman, 3, likes princess and silly stories and Eleanor Kies likes Cinderella. Dalton Edmondson, 4, is a Spider-Man fan.
Parent Becky Fengarinas said her older daughter, fourth-grader Casey Leach, 10, reads to her younger brother, Corey Fengarinas, 4, in the car on the way to school.
All this support makes the parents very special to Ilsley. "They complete me," she said.