By Mimi Wood, The Island Eye News Staff Writer
The Sullivan’s Island second graders were as composed as you’d expect seven-year-olds to be, given the fact that Charlie, beloved mascot of the Charleston RiverDogs, was in the house.
Charlie made a guest appearance at Sullivan’s Island Elementary School on Tuesday, Jan. 29, in conjunction with a reading enrichment partnership between the Charleston County School District and the Lowcountry’s Class A, New York Yankees’ affiliate, minor league baseball team, the Charleston RiverDogs.
“Reading Around the Bases is a literacy program to increase reading,” explains Kris Bennett, community relations assistant for the RiverDogs. “We target second-graders, because they are on the cusp of becoming independent readers.”
SIES was an inaugural participant in the program, which began three years ago with 13 schools.
Grown to 23 schools since its inception, “We now have the majority of the second grades in the CCSD participating,” says Bennett.
Each student receives a packet at the kickoff of the 10-week program, containing, among other items, a scorecard and a tracking sheet. Reading 100 pages gets you to first base; 500 is a home run. The top 25 scorers from each school are honored at “The Joe” during the annual Education Day game, this year held on May 28.
SIES second-grader Genevieve Sturdy loves to read. When pressed to name her favorite book, she responds thoughtfully, “That’s a hard one,” adding, “right now I’m reading the ‘Game Warden’ series. It’s about people who protect animals.”
“I don’t think I’ll win,” she continues, “there’s tons of kids reading.” However, SIES librarian, Deborah Palmer Santos, disagrees. “Genevieve is a great reader!” she exclaims, elaborating that Genevieve, like the majority of the SIES second-graders, is “transitioning to chapter books, from picture books. Most of the kids are in chapter books at this point, but, I have 4th and 5th graders who still check out a picture book every once in a while. And why not? Who doesn’t enjoy a good picture book?”
Joining Bennett and Charlie from the RiverDogs was Jeremy Schrank, who read “Brothers at Bat,” by Audrey Vernick. The young audience was enraptured by this true story of the Acerra Brothers, who, with 16 siblings in all, fielded a semi-pro baseball team in Long Branch, NJ from 1938 until 1952. Santos selected the book not just for its baseball theme, but also because, “We have it in digital form as well as hardback,” which enabled her to project the illustrations onto a screen for the students, as Charlie pantomimed what Schrank was reading.
Obviously a bibliophile, Santos reads mostly professional and “kid stuff” during the school year. “I get so engrossed in a book I can’t put it down. I’ll read ‘til 4 a.m., which doesn’t really work when I have to get up for school around 6.”
While teaching 2nd grade in North Charleston, Santos noticed a void in library science. Attending an educational conference, she heard a librarian state, ”If you like to teach reading, you may want to consider becoming a librarian.” That cinched it; she went back to school and obtained her masters in Library Science, and has been at SIES ever since.
In addition to the annual Summer Reading program at SIES, Santos created two innovative literacy programs. “I had to think of ways to engage the boys. The girls will go along with anything,” she grins.
The result: “Reading Rivalry” happens every autumn, a crescendo to the annual Clemson vs. UofSC football game. Competition for prizes is fierce; one year a football signed by Dabo Swinney was donated as the Clemson prize. “I had to scramble to get one signed by the Gamecocks’ coach!” recalls Santos. Turns out a benevolent friend bought one online, so both sides had equal incentive to read.
“We’re just about to launch ‘March Reading Madness’,” our other annual literary competition, held in conjunction with the collegiate March Madness basketball tournament. “The kids make it fun. They’re great readers!” Santos concludes.