PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — If a good book is meant to transport, Chris Van Allsburg’s The Widow’s Broom was certainly doing its job on Monday. A classroom of third-graders at George J. West Elementary School journeyed through that supernatural tale of Minna Shaw and her magical broom. Gathered in the room’s far corner, the students sat wide-eyed as soccer-playing senior Ryan McDuff took them through the mysterious story. In classrooms throughout the school the scene was similar, with students in the K-5 school listening intently as Brown student-athletes read from various well-known children’s books.
The athletes’ visit was part of the Providence Public School Department’s Reading Week, an annual event that coincides with a national effort to get children more interested in reading. This is the first year Brown Athletics is participating in the program. Nearly 100 Brown athletes will be reading to classes in schools throughout the city, including George J. West, Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary, Paul Cuffee School, and Lauro Elementary. Students will also be visiting Leviton Dual Language School and Asa Messer Elementary the week of April 22 as an extension of the program. In addition, 10 coaches from various Brown teams will read to classes at Vartan Gregorian Elementary on April 10, bringing with them a special guest: Bruno, the Brown mascot.
“Brown Athletics is committed to the success of the Providence community, and over the years, our student-athletes have played an important role in complementing the educational efforts of the city’s school system,” said Jack Hayes, director of athletics. “We have had a long-standing partnership with Vartan Gregorian Elementary School, but the Reading Week project is a new effort that allows us to interact with children and teachers in other schools throughout Providence. Brown student-athletes and coaches enjoy reaching out as role models to the school children and trying to influence their lives in a positive manner.”
McDuff, one of the student organizers of the program, says he was inspired to volunteer because of his own elementary school experiences.
”I think back to elementary school and a highlight for me was always when older students would come back and visit. As student athletes, I think we have a great platform to relate to these kids and a responsibility to give back,” McDuff said.
Ilyssa Grant, the reading coach at George J. West, said that the benefits of Reading Week are two-fold
“I think it’s a nice change for the students to have someone other than the teacher read a book to them. And it’s a great way to expose them to other books that are out there. We’re often so focused on the curriculum that we don’t get a chance to veer off-track and do something a little different,” Grant said.
Fifth-grade teacher Pam Resendes agreed that her class gets most excited “when a fresh face comes into the classroom.” More surprising to her, however, were the questions that followed cross-country and track member Abigail Jones’ reading of The Sweetest Fig. After talking briefly about the book, Resendes’ fifth-graders peppered Jones with questions about college.
“I was really impressed with how engaged the students were,” said Jones, who got involved with Reading Week because, as a Rhode Island native, she said she feels it’s important to know what’s going on in the local schools and to give back.
Jones said the students were particularly interested in her urban studies major and asked more general questions about what college life is like.
Resendes said that having a college student visit the class offered a unique learning opportunity for her students.
“Learning about her major, that was a subject that was new for them. It was new for me, too.”