Ending the school year with Joy, by reading

The Joy of Reading celebrated Thursday at Fort Dodge Senior High the conclusion of its first year of promoting literacy to the city’s second-graders.

The foundation was started by Katie Averill in honor of her daughter Emily Joy Averill, an aspiring elementary teacher who was killed in a car accident in 2011. The Joy of Reading has spent the year putting books into the hands of Fort Dodge’s students to inspire them to read.

With the school year ending soon, Averill hopes the students’ enthusiasm for reading will continue into the summer.

“I’ve been working with these second-graders all this year, so this is kind of a send-off to summer,” Averill said. “Our main message is we’re hoping the kids will continue to read over the summer so they’ll be ready to start the third grade and move on in their literacy goals.”

The foundation will next give students items to help them grow as readers.

“Next week we go back to the schools and we give them backpacks,” Averill said. “In the backpack is a coupon for them to go to the public library and pick out a free book. It gives them a little bit of a choice so they will learn the joy of reading, with a book of their choosing.”

For the first time since beginning in November, the foundation is reaching out to the students’ parents.

“We thought this was an important element, especially moving into the summer months,” Averill said, “because the teachers kind of hang up their hats for the summer and parents take over as the main educators.”

Rick Traw, a University of Northern Iowa professor of literacy, spoke to parents about the importance of getting their kids excited for summer reading.

“The research is really clear; one of the things that will help kids become readers is, real simple, having access to books,” Traw said. “For the Joy of Reading Foundation to assist in that, making books available to kids, it’s great. There are some kids who are going to become readers because of that and that’s going to affect them. Being literate is pretty important.”

Katie Averill reached out to Traw, who knew Emily Averill.

“I had Katie’s daughter at a class at UNI, several classes,” he said. “And so we got to know each other a little bit through that. Katie gave me a call and asked if I would come.”

Traw told parents about the benefits of reading to and with their kids over the summer, among other helpful tips, and warned them about summer reading loss.

“It varies so widely from one kid to another, you never know,” he said. “One statistic you read about it is over the course of a child’s elementary school years if they don’t read during the summer they can create a gap of as much as a year and a half worth of achievement from where they might have been if they had been reading during the summer. That’s pretty significant.”

Rosie Ellendson, Fort Dodge Community School District literacy coach, lauded the program.

“I think it’s only going to help the Fort Dodge community and all our schools and all our children,” she said. “Katie’s been going into the classrooms all year long and they have really bonded with her.”

Sue Wood, FDCSD director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, also praised the Joy of Reading.

“I think it has been an amazing effort across the city,” Wood said. “The joy it has brought to our children in second grade and to our teachers is just unbelievable. It is going to be a great thing for us to be able to see that these children are going to be reading over the summer as well. It’s been awesome.”

Averill said she is, so far, pleased with the results of the foundation’s continuing and growing efforts.

“I just feel a real love for these children,” she said. “I feel this is an important thing to do for the entire community. I think it’s been a success so far.”