Weber School superintendent: Reading can make dreams come true

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 1:32 PM

Nancy Van Valkenburg, Standard-Examiner Staff

HARRISVILLE — Jeff Stephens walked across his small, impromptu stage, reading a story of Isaac, a poor man who dreamed he could find treasure, to a rapt audience of more than 100 Majestic Elementary School fourth graders.

Stephens, Weber School District Superintendent, read of Isaac’s long walk to the ornate palace in his dreams, and of the bystanders who didn’t believe in Isaac’s vision. Stephens walked from side to side, and stooped to make sure each child could see the colorful illustrations in “The Treasure,” by Uri Shulevitz.

The story ended with Isaac’s dream coming true, but in an unexpected way, and much closer to home.

For students, it’s reading that can make dreams come true, Stephens said later.

“Reading builds children’s background knowledge, and develops their vocabularies, and reading during the summer ensures their skills will not lapse,” he said.

Stephens and other district officials this week traveled for the second week of a three-week project to read to students at all 29 Weber School District elementary schools, from A. Parley Bates to West Weber.

The administrators also handed out achievement certificates to students who had completed the district’s summer reading challenge, to read 1,000 pages or 10 books at their grade level during summer vacation.

“I liked that our grade got the superintendent,” Kole Sparrow, 10, said after the program. “He’s the top guy, and he’s a pretty good reader.”

“The program was really fun,” said Katie Wilson, 9 and the protective bearer of a signed certificate. “I’m going to put this someplace safe, like on the refrigerator.”

Jerry Pacheco teaches fourth grade at Majestic Elementary.

“They were really excited when they heard they got the superintendent,” he said. “When children read during the summer, they seem to come back to school more aware, and their senses seem to be piqued. They participate more. Being back in school is not as much of a shock. The summer reading challenge is a really good program. I wish more students would get the letters home so their parents could encourage them.”

Michelle Stratford also teaches fourth grade at Majestic.

“Summer reading helps students stay fresh in their skills,” Stratford said. “They continue to educate themselves during the summer, which helps them, and books keep their brains fresh and their minds going.”

Jane Anne Bitton, district curriculum director, said summer reading teaches students new words.

“At a young age, children’s vocabulary increases very fast,” she said. “Summer reading keeps that process going. They have got to read through the summer, if they back off, they slip back.”

Stephens said between 5,000 and 6,000 students earned certificates this year, up at least a few hundred from last year.

“It’s all to promote reading,” he said, of the district effort.

Stephens signs each certificate by hand. In November, he will start the process again, coming to work 15 minutes early most days so he can sign a few dozen certificates for next summer’s readers.

And no, he has not considered getting a name stamp.

“If a child can read a thousand pages, I can write my name,” he said. “It’s a minor sacrifice for children who make a great effort. Signing each certificate is a labor of love.”

Contact reporter Nancy Van Valkenburg at 801-625-4275 or Follow her on Twitter at @S_ENancyVanV.

Sign up for e-mail news updates.