Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

NEIGHBORS >> Chat 'N' Chew

Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: School reading program involves students, community leaders and lunch

Fourth grade students at Magness Creek Elementary are becoming excited about reading through the Chat ‘N’ Chew book clubs started by literacy teacher Joni Coats.

“Of my 41 students, 21 had been identified at some risk in the area of reading comprehension,” Coats said. “With that many Academic Improvement Plans I knew the school would never be able to supply me with the tutoring assistance I needed to accommodate all these children.” Inspired by Oprah Winfrey’s book clubs, Coats suggested fourth-grade book clubs during lunch led not by teachers, but rather by community members who could become mentors to the children. Magness Creek principal Blaine Alexander volunteered to lead one of the book clubs and sent an e-mail to the administration office and out to the community.

Now seven Chat ‘N’ Chew book clubs, four for girls, three for boys, with six students in each, meet throughout the week. Book club students take their lunches and books into conference rooms where community volunteers lead the Chat ‘N’ Chew discussions.

Other community volunteers beside Alexander include Pam Carter and Robert Martin both of the Cabot School Central Office; Angela Kuntzman of Cebridge Communications in Cabot; Jeff Hardage of Whit Davis Lumber Plus in Cabot; Charlotte Ramsey and Kylie McGinty, both teacher interns from the University of Central Arkansas. “It’s over lunch so it’s casual and fun and not like a classroom atmosphere,” Coats said. In addition to building literacy skills in a relaxed environment the clubs are helping with student behavior problems in the classroom.

“The students are seeing that reading is a wonderful thing, not from a teacher but from ordinary grown-ups. Children love the clubs. They like having a special place to eat and talk to someone other than a teacher about books,” Coats said.

During the first meeting the students decide how many chapters they’re going to read for each Chat ‘N’ Chew, usually two to three chapters a week. It takes about six to eight Chat ‘N’ Chew meetings to complete a book.

In Martin’s book club, the boys are reading “Snow Treasure” by Marie McSwigan, a 156-page historical mystery about Nazis invading Norway.

“We’re learning about context clues and predicting what’s going to happen next,” Martin said. A self-described history buff, Martin used the Internet to show the students where Norway is and what a fjord looks like to aid them in understanding the setting of the novel.

Down the hall in Jeff Hardage’s book club, the group is discussing the 96-page “The X-ed Out X-Ray” an A to Z Mystery by Ron Roy. “At home I read more managerial books and hunting magazines,” says Hardage. “I think it’s important to show the young students that reading is enjoyable and adults are interested in it.”