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Reading into action

After the Coachman Middle kids read about others serving a community, they do it, too.

Published October 11, 2005

CLEARWATER - Sixth-grader Ayana Maxwell went shopping for school supplies recently.

Accompanied by her mother, she dropped pencils, three-ring folders, colored markers, rulers and lined paper into a red Target shopping cart.

But the supplies weren't for her. Ayana was collecting items to donate to foster children as part of a school project that weaves together reading and public service.

The project is the brainchild of Margo Roche, reading teacher at Coachman Fundamental Middle School.

Last year, Roche launched a pilot program in which students listened as their homeroom teacher read one chapter from a book every morning. For six weeks, all the sixth-graders heard readings from the same book, and Roche combined the reading with a service project related to the book's theme.

"My belief is that children need to serve and reading should be fun," Roche said. "I just put the two together."

The program was so successful, it became a schoolwide event this year.

"It's not for a grade," said principal Dawn Coffin. "It just gets the kids excited about reading."

The eighth-graders are reading The Last Dog on Earth, which centers on a boy who adopts a very special dog.

"I think it's good so far," said Mary Ellen Frank, 13. "I would give it an A or B."

For their service project, the eighth-graders are collecting items for Friends of Strays Animal Shelter, including canned puppy and cat food, dry adult dog food, small cat beds and pet carriers.

The seventh-graders are reading a science fiction novel, The City of Ember, about an underground society trying to survive on limited resources. The service project Roche suggested is called an old-fashioned "pounding."

"In pioneer days, when a family was down on their luck, neighbors would hold what they called a pounding. They would bring a pound of some kind of food staple to help the family in need," Roche said. In keeping with the theme, the seventh-graders are collecting pounds of flour, sugar, beans and canned goods to donate to Tampa Bay Harvest.

The hero in Maniac Magee, the sixth-graders' current book, is a boy who is a foster child. So the sixth-graders are filling backpacks with school supplies for a thrift shop called A Blooming Place for Kids, which runs a camp for foster children.

After each morning's chapter, the students draw pictures, do a character sheet, or some other related activities for each chapter, including a community service project.

School librarian Sharon Beckett acts as a guest reader in several homerooms, or CORE groups as the school calls them, for Celebration of Reading Everywhere.

"We are modeling good reading for them," Beckett said. "Also this is a good way to introduce them to new authors."

Eleven-year-old Corey Francisco said he has become more interested in reading because of the service project. And he is enjoying each morning's dollop of Maniac Magee. "I'm excited to hear how it ends," he said.

Coachman, one of two fundamental middle schools in Pinellas, places an emphasis on academic basics, student responsibility and parental involvement. Coffin said Coachman was first in the district for reading in FCAT testing.

"Mrs. Roche does a fabulous job," said Coffin.

Roche said when she chooses books, she looks for a good read that children can easily relate to.

"I would love to do the classics," she said, "but I need to grab them right now."

Roche, 55, grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and came from a family of teachers. Her mother was a reading teacher and all of Roche's five siblings likewise became teachers. She has been teaching reading in Pinellas since 1979, and has been at Coachman since it opened in 1996.

Roche said she takes as her motto a quote from her hero, African-American educator Mary McLeod Bethune: "You enter to learn in school, but you depart to serve."

She runs all her book selections by her grandson, Dylan, 13, who loves to read.

"He tells me when I've found a keeper," Roche said.

Ayana, 12, said she enjoys hearing books read aloud. "Mrs. Roche can stop at some point and explain what's happening in the story," she said. "That way you can comprehend it better."

The book readings and service projects will wrap up Oct. 27, the end of the second marking period. Roche plans three more books for each grade before the end of the school year.

"I've spent a lot of time making children see there's a bigger life outside of their own," Roche said.

[Last modified October 11, 2005, 01:58:15]

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