An update on this amazing group of little people. You may remember a while back (eh-hem! Only two blog posts back slacker!) this group of kids who read to shelter cats a the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin. (See that post here.) The program was struggling to meet the financial demands of transportation to and from the shelter. Some FANTASTIC people stepped up and helped fund this program for the rest of this school year. I am in awe of you fine folks. Really. There was a need and BAM! Ya’ll took care of it. Makes my heart feel warm and fuzzy.
I asked their teacher to share her side of what this program is and means to her. So let me introduce Mrs. Hayward!!! These are her thoughts about this program and how it got started.
When Margie asked me to write about how Washington Whisker Whisperers came to be I was only too happy to oblige. As a teacher I’ve always felt that service learning projects should be part of our curriculum. Each school is an important part of every community. Providing children with the opportunity to become involved in their community teaches them responsibility for themselves but also for others. Community Service allows them to see how their actions impact the lives of others. While there are many great projects such as Make a Difference Day in the fall and the many opportunities to clean up and recycle that surround Earth Day in the spring, I was searching for something that was more than just a single experience. I also wanted to connect the project to a subject at school but what and how?
As I was reading one-on-one with a student, who was stumbling over every other word it seemed, the student suddenly stopped in the middle of the passage, looked up at me and said, “This is why I never volunteer to read aloud because I make so many mistakes. I don’t want to be laughed at.” While I would like to say that my students don’t laugh at each other the plain truth is they do. Oh they don’t do it out loud, as they would be heard by everyone, but they snicker, roll their eyes, and volunteer the correct answer so quickly that the reader doesn’t even have a chance to try and figure out the word. No matter how many times we talk about how everyone has different strengths and talents they seem to forget this fact when a fellow student doesn’t read a word correctly.
Reading fluency is such a big part of comprehension. When students spend more time trying to figure out the words they are reading they don’t have time to comprehend what they are reading. They get to the end of the story and they are completely exhausted as they have spent all their energy attempting to figure out words instead of understanding what they have read. The only way you get better at reading fluency is to practice, but when you know you aren’t good at it who wants to practice and know that others are judging you. Enter Washington Whisker Whisperers. The idea of kids reading aloud to the shelter cats just popped into my head one day shortly after this students comment to me.
While I knew the idea would work I had to figure out the logistics. Fortunately I have a principal, Scott Garner that embraced my seemingly wild idea and gave me the go ahead. Brett Frazier, director of the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin, was on board as well. Our LMC director, Karen Biege helped me make a presentation to show to the students and Washington Whisker Whisperers was formed. The aspect of this program that is hard to describe is the enthusiasm of the kids. Each week they bring their favorite book and run up to the door of the Humane Society laughing and giggling. Once inside they spend a minute or two looking at all the cats and saying how sorry they are the cats are there. I remind them that if the cats weren’t here they would not have the opportunity to find a new and loving home. This pleases them and they are set to get to work.
Once inside a room with their new feline friend the magic begins. I call it magic because they have no reason to be apprehensive about reading aloud. They open their book and start reading. Some cats are more receptive to them than others but they just keep reading. This is the part that never ceases to amaze me. In the classroom setting they would read as little as possible but here they keep reading no matter how many words they stumble on. You see the cats don’t judge them on how many mistakes they make. They just love the attention they receive and most wind up on the laps of the kids purring while they are being read to. When our time is up I quietly tap on the glass and say it’s time to go. They respond with, “But we just got here.” or “No, not yet.” They unwillingly say their goodbyes to the kitty and gather their things. We board the bus back to the school and our time is done for another week.
[Three kittens laid quietly in a kitty condo directly across from this student, watching and listening to every word.]
While our time with the cats is finished for the week, we meet as a group for lunch the next day in my classroom. As the kids were reading to their cat yesterday they were marking any words they didn’t know with a post it-note. During our lunch together they take turns discussing these words. They do an amazing job supporting each other with the unknown words. In this small group setting they don’t judge each other. Their discussion resembles that of a book talk between friends. Another wonderful aspect of WWW is that our group is diverse. We have kids with a wide range of reading levels and some that don’t struggle while reading aloud and those who do. It is in this safe arena that the joy of reading is shared.
One part of the program that remains a struggle is finding the funding to provide transportation. We began by renting our own bus for $110.00 a trip. We now share a bus with the Boys & Girls Club thanks to the suggestion of Al Fugate, General Manager at Van Galder Bus Company. Sharing a bus has brought our cost down to $45.00 a trip which is a considerable savings. We have had tremendous support from my principal Scott Garner, The Washington PTA, and members of our local and extended community. To date we have received donations totaling $700.00 from Colleen McKearn, Anne Nack, Katharine Buker and Heather Bricker. These generous supporters are friends I don’t even know. This is truly humbling for me. I would be remiss not to thank Margie Duerr and Allison Hokinson for their countless hours of work, suggestions, and financial support. I could never find a way to repay everyone for all of their kindness and support.
I am excited about the future of WWW and can’t wait to see where this journey takes us. Please follow us on Facebook and share our program. We couldn’t continue to do what we do without wonderful supporters like you.
Thank you Mrs. Hayward, for your dedication to the students and your service to the community. You are helping to raise outstanding human beings.