Lunchtime reading a big hit

By Lesley McCullough McCallister

As first year Read Aloud West Virginia volunteer Patrick Ashton, Assistant Principal at Mountain Ridge Intermediate School in Gerrardstown, Berkeley County, was attending his Read Aloud training, he was so excited thinking about reading to one classroom that he began to contemplate how to reach his entire school. Then it hit him, the best time to reach as many students as possible at once—lunchtime!

Typically, on “Theater Thursdays” students were allowed to watch a movie during their lunch period. Building on that idea, Mr. Ashton believed Read Aloud sessions would be a fun instructional activity that also could be tied to the curriculum. During the fall semester, Mr. Ashton began weekly Read Aloud sessions for approximately 200 students during each of three lunch periods for the third, fourth and fifth graders.

The students’ positive feedback was immediate. “I had kids asking me multiple times every day if I could read every day,” said Mr. Ashton. “Even the boys were requesting!”

This semester he read Wonder to the fourth and fifth graders and noted when it got close to Christmas he read Christmas stories and poems and put Wonder on hold.

Just before the holiday break, Mr. Ashton was promoted and will not return as Assistant Principal in the new year. Thankfully, Principal Autumne Frye has agreed to continue the lunchtime Read Aloud sessions for the students.

When asked why reading to students is so important, Mr. Ashton explained, “Enjoyment, imagination, relevance, comprehension, fluency, decoding, phonemic awareness, etc. I could go on and on. Kids need to  see that adults are excited about reading. I especially wanted to do this Read Aloud with our students to promote the idea that men do like to read and it’s not just for girls/women. And although I’m far from ‘cool,’ I am very active in their lives and I wanted the kids to see that reading is not just a forced act inside the classroom. Reading is exciting and enjoyable.”

While he won’t be at Mountain Ridge full time in the future, Mr. Ashton hopes his new position will allow him the flexibility to come back and continue reading to the students on occasion. He also hopes the idea of lunchtime Read Aloud sessions spreads to other schools throughout the state.

Lesley McCullough McCallister is a Read Aloud supporter, volunteer reader, newsletter contributor and a freelance  journalist.

Returning readers: what to expect as the school year begins

We’re happy to report that as early as July we began hearing from volunteers who are eager to get back to their classrooms and schools. Here’s what the state Read Aloud office, school principals and school coordinators are doing behind the scenes to make sure that happens as soon as possible!

Enrollment packets for the new school year were sent to principals in early August with a request that schools enroll in the program no later than September 1st. Each principal is asked to designate a Read Aloud school coordinator for their school when they submit the enrollment form to Read Aloud.

Once Read Aloud receives the enrollment form, we compile a packet of information and forms for the school coordinator. This packet contains the results of the reader surveys we received from you over the summer and is used by the coordinator to contact readers who want to return to their school for the new year. This is why reader surveys are an important part of the Read Aloud process! (It is also why we are grateful for the high response rate!)

Schools in the counties served by Read Aloud had varying start dates this year from August 10 to August 24, 2017. The goal is to have all returning readers back in their classrooms no later than October 1st. If you don’t hear from your school coordinator, or if you have questions, please contact your school or the state Read Aloud office at  (304) 345-5212.


Beyond reading: a grab bag of ideas for classroom enrichment

By Bethany Kinder

The annual Read Aloud Conference brings chapter representatives together from all across West Virginia and gives them opportunities to share challenges, success stories and reader experiences from their counties. Here are a few ideas shared at this year’s conference from readers around the state. Perhaps one will inspire you!

A Cherished Note

Lesley McCullough McCallister of Kanawha County found that reading to a combined class of 23 second graders at Mary C. Snow Elementary was a rewarding experience for her and one that had a dramatic impact on her students, one in particular. Lesley’s children attend a different school but she already reads to them and wanted to reach out to another school in the community. By the end of the school year, she witnessed students who were once unsettled become attentive listeners. Lesley felt that it was a “privilege to come into the classroom each week” and wanted to thank the students for letting her share reading with them. She gave each student a stuffed “Pete the Cat,” the featured character in their favorite books—some  of which she read to the students more than once based on their requests. She also included a thank you note to each student expressing her gratitude for a great year and also encouraging the students to continue reading throughout the summer. (She noted Pete the Cat loved to read.) The children were delighted with their gifts but the note struck a particular chord with one child.

A young boy in Lesley’s class approached her with the note he had received. “I will cherish this always,” he said. “This is my most prized possession.” Lesley noted that students may have never received individual notes of appreciation. This simple personal touch reaches students beyond the interaction volunteers have while reading and leaves a lasting impression on the students. Lesley said it well, “sometimes you don’t realize you are reaching them, but you are.”

Personalized Bookmarks

Casey Willson of Berkeley County made that same connection by creating personalized bookmarks which he distributed to each student in the class he read to at the end of the school year. Casey and Ms. Edwards, the classroom teacher, were featured in group photos on the bookmarks along with an encouraging message to the students to keep reading through summer. The bookmarks are useful and serve as a reminder of their experience with the reader.

Readers Find Creative Ways to Continue Connection When Out of Town

Sometimes readers are unable to make their scheduled classroom time. Bob Fleenor (Berkeley County) and Betsy Howard (Fayette County) used technology to avoid missing a visit with their respective classes. Working in advance with the teachers in those classes, they arranged  to use Skype or FaceTime to read to the kids. Other readers have sent postcards to their classes to let them know they miss them. Each strategy reinforces the importance of the read aloud experience to the reader as well as the students.

Bringing the Book to Life

Mary Boyd is a busy woman! She is a pediatrician, President of the Randolph County Read Aloud Chapter and a regular Read Aloud volunteer. Most of her classroom visits and readings do not include props, but last year she treated the class to one visit with a more dramatic flair. Mary brought a special guest, one of her medical students, Will, to her regular class of kindergarten students. Will dressed as a shark and Mary dressed as a fisherman as they read The Rainbow Fish and a book about sea turtles. The students were given a real-life commercial for reading and had a lot of fun seeing the books come to life.

Though it is not required of volunteer readers to go the extra mile with personal touches like books, notes, Skyping and props, these simple but creative ideas are great ways to impact students not just through summer, but for a lifetime.

Berkeley County Chapter Board Member and Volunteer Reader Casey Willson poses with his class after a successful year!




Mary Boyd (right) of Randolph County, with her medical student (left), successfully brought the book to life!

Book review – Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff

Reviewed by Matt Harmon

Grades 2+ • 350 pages

I read this to a group of 2nd-5th graders for the Read Aloud organization. It was a fun adventure tale, but couched within it are great lessons for kids regarding worth, value, and the nature of money.

In the story, the giant King, King Barf, covets gold above all else; he equates his massive gold stock with a rich kingdom. Yet, his people are suffering a famine due to crop failure. When the people complain to King Barf that they are poor and hungry, he dismisses their concerns because the kingdom has so much gold, so it must be rich.

This illuminates a fundamental principle of money—it exists to facilitate exchange, but it is not valuable in and of itself. What good is gold (or paper currency) if it cannot buy food? This is a lesson the world should have learned during the Great Depression, particularly France. Under the gold standard era, France increased its share of world gold reserves by 20 percent, in essence taking money out of the world financial system and leading to a massive deflation spiral. But I digress.

Jack and his sister Annabella save the day, with some help from the pixies, by turning the king’s golden eggs back into seeds that sprout plants. They took gold, which only has value in exchange, and turned it into crops which have value in use. My hat is off to Ms. Shurtliff for so elegantly illuminating key economic principles to children. Bravo!

Matt Harmon is a volunteer reader at Charleston Montessori School in Kanawha County.



Read Aloud reader survey results

By Lesley McCullough McCallister

At the conclusion of each school year, Read Aloud West Virginia distributes a volunteer reader survey soliciting feedback regarding their Read Aloud placement and experience. This year, Read Aloud created an electronic version which allowed volunteers to complete their survey quickly and easily online, in addition to the few paper copies that were still provided to those volunteers who do not have an email address.

While the national average response rate for email surveys is about 25 percent, Read Aloud was delighted to receive feedback from 57 percent of volunteer readers.

“We are extremely grateful to hear directly from our volunteers about the good things they experienced, as well as areas of the program that can be improved,” said Read Aloud Executive Director Mary Kay Bond. “These valuable responses help us gauge strengths and weaknesses of our program either at the state, chapter or school level.”

The collected Read Aloud feedback is shared with chapter leadership in each county, and in turn helps themprepare for the upcoming school year. In some cases, chapter boards will reach out directly to readers who were involved but failed to respond to the survey.

Some of the most important information collected in the volunteer reader survey concerns each individual reader’s plans for the upcoming school year and if they wish to return to their previous placement.

Once a school principal submits their Read Aloud enrollment form and identifies the school coordinator, Read Aloud sends the placement data to the school coordinator so that returning readers can be placed early in the new school year.

Based on this year’s survey results, 63 percent of volunteer readers plan to return to their previous placement and continue to read to the same grade and classroom during the upcoming school year. While 28 percent requested to continue reading but change their current placement, Bond explained this is usually due to the desire to follow a particular child or grandchild to the next grade level.

The electronic survey also provided volunteer readers a quick and easy way to update their contact information, which is then shared with the local chapter leadership. The last open-ended questions on the survey asked for general comments and book suggestions. Read Aloud was delighted to receive numerous book suggestions by grade level and plans to add the compiled list to the suggested titles already listed on the Read Aloud website. This is a valuable resource for both parents and new readers who are looking for  suggestions that have worked for other readers in the past.

Visit for reader recommended book titles.

Read Aloud is grateful for the dedication of its volunteer readers and chapter leadership and is gearing up for another successful school year as they try to help raise a new generation of readers in West Virginia.

Lesley McCullough McCallister is a Read Aloud supporter, volunteer reader, newsletter contributor and a  freelance journalist.



A great gig: a volunteer profile of Joe Biola

By Nikki Moses

How was Read Aloud today, Mr. Biola?

“Swell.” The energy in his voice is unmistakable. He has just returned from reading to three classrooms of devoted kids at North School in Elkins. “Swell.”

Biola, a retired insurance executive, wanted to read aloud to children but did not have an avenue. Then he found out about Read Aloud West Virginia. That was four years ago. Today the veteran volunteer reads to six classrooms each week, half on Tuesdays and half on Fridays. Students range from pre-kindergarten to fourth grade.

“Today I had ‘guest pickers,’’’ he said. Hmmm? “My grandson picked Bony Legs by Joanna Cole. It’s a little scary so the kids liked it. My wife picked Beautiful Joe by Margaret Marshall Saunders.” This “pick” is a story written in 1893 about a dog that has had a tough start in life. “It is still resonant today,” Biola explained.

He frequents Elkins’ public library and the Davis and Elkins College library in search of titles, and he keeps a log of books that work well.

Roald Dahl is a favorite, including his The Enormous Crocodile. “It’s about a crocodile that likes to eat children,” he said, laughing. He also reads The Fantastic Mr. Fox and The BFG to his fourth graders. How to Be Cool in the Third Grade by Betsy Duffey is another favorite.

He has read from the Harry Potter series, too. These lengthy novels are too long for Biola to read in their entirety. He reads a few chapters and then lets the kids’ appetite for reading take over. “If they want (to finish reading) it, they know where to find it,” he said.

An original title is Big Butch the Blue Nosed Reindeer. This is a story Biola created for his children. His daughter, Dr. Holly Biola, turned it into picture book. Another amazing story is Willa the Caterpilla, a story written by her father-in-law, the late Dr. Don Roberts. Roberts wrote Willa during his time as a doctor serving in World War II and sent it back to his daughters.

Second grade teacher Brittany Scarberry sings Biola’s praises. “He comes faithfully every week, right on time…He reads with wonderful expression, and even does voice impressions for different characters.

“Mr. Biola brings so much joy and knowledge to the students through reading. A consistent example of an adult reading for enjoyment offers so many benefits to the students,” she said.

Asked about his reading style, Biola said, laughing, “I have a falsetto and a bass. And I can do Donald Duck. There are not many times to use that one, but I am ready.”

He advises readers to vet their books carefully, and “Keep your appointment,” he counsels.

In the end Biola believes he is the one who benefits the most from Read Aloud. “I have a great gig,” he said.

Nikki Moses is the former editor of the Read Aloud newsletter and a board member.