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Longfellow Elementary kicks off One School, One Book project

Faculty, family, community come together to inspire students to read

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Longfellow Principal Lisa Heckenlaible speaks during an all-school assembly Friday in the school's gymnasium. Also pictured is title teacher Tara Gubbrud at back right. Luke Hagen / Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — Everybody could use a little more time spent with a good book.

The One School, One Book project currently underway at Longfellow Elementary School in Mitchell aims to get students to do just that with a little help from family, faculty and members of the general community.

“We have a saying — even if you don’t have time to do anything at all, find 20 minutes a day to read to your child. That 20 minutes is priceless,” said Lisa Heckenlaible, principal at Longfellow Elementary School.

The program, which has also been implemented at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School and L.B. Williams Elementary School in recent years, sees a copy of a selected book sent home with each student. The students read the book a chapter at a time with their parents. In addition to the parent-child connection, members of the general Mitchell community are video recorded reading different chapters of the book aloud. Should a parent be too busy to read a particular chapter, the student can select the appropriate chapter and read along with the guest mystery reader.

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Those mystery readers, who include personalities such as Mitchell School District Superintendent Joe Graves, Mitchell Public Library Librarian Kevin Kenkel and Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson, add some fun to the proceedings as well as offer an option for busy parents who may not be able to make every reading session, Heckenlaible said.

“We really encourage the parents and students to read. The book goes home with every family and we really want to promote that. But we know there are some parents who are working who can’t,” Heckenlaible said.

The One School, One Book program is itself a part of the Read to Them program, and promotes the benefits of reading aloud. The program website cites studies that show that reading to children helps them to better listen and understand, build larger vocabularies, better understand concepts and feel positive about both reading and learning.

Longfellow kicked off their round of One School, One Book Friday morning with the unveiling of the selected book: Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. The book, published in 2000, is the story of a lonely girl, Opal, who just moved to Florida with her father, an itinerant preacher, who manages to make friends with an eccentric cast of characters via the charms of a stray dog. The book was a Newbery Honor Book and its author has gone on to win the Newbery Award with her subsequent work.

The book was also made into a feature film in 2005.

The book has long been popular with educators, and Heckenlaible said some parents may even be familiar with the book from their own childhoods. Plus, one of the main characters is a dog, and most children, even if they don’t have a dog at home, are interested in or at least familiar with dogs.

“That’s a very popular one for adults and kids, and the focus is around a dog, and a lot of kids are familiar with dogs,” Heckenlaible said.

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With only 170 pages and short chapters, the book is ideal for quick reading sessions and is written on a level that makes it enjoyable for younger students still developing their reading skills to older students who have a better mastery of the written word.

Tara Gubbrud, who teaches Title I and Taylor Schramm, who teaches begindergarten and Title I, helped organize the program and select the reading title. Title I teachers help students who need additional help with skills like reading or math. Title I classes are often taught with fewer students to give teachers more one-on-one time as needed.

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Longfellow teacher Tara Gubbrud speaks during an all-school assembly Friday in the school's gymnasium. Luke Hagen / Mitchell Republic

Schramm said the program is set up to help students succeed at reading and to see that it is something that can be enjoyed for pleasure and not necessarily something that has to be tied to schoolwork.

“I feel that this is a fun way to find enjoyment in reading that doesn’t have to be based on school work. It can be based on fun," Schramm said.

Gubbrud, whose husband Chris, principal at Gertie Belle Rogers, is also participating as a surprise mystery reader, said the One School, One Book fits nicely with the school’s efforts to mold well-rounded students ready for the next level of their education. A high-level of reading comprehension is crucial to success in any subject, she said.

“It’s so important, especially at a young age. As they get older (being able to read is important) because you have so much reading in every subject. Everything you do involves reading,” Gubbrud said.

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Heckenlaible said the school would like to do something special at the end of the school year by booking a screening of the Because of Winn-Dixie film, possibly at the local drive-in theater, if it can be arranged. But she knows she would like to continue with the program and coordinate with the other district elementary schools on further reading efforts.

Faculty and staff at the school stress the importance of reading skills from the students’ first day in school, and the One School, One Book program will hopefully continue to be a part of that process.

One chapter at a time.

“That 20 minutes a day is priceless for your kid’s education and to instill the love of reading,” Heckenlaible said.

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