OGDEN -- Kalle Kennedy has loved tutoring students at Dee Elementary School each week so far this year, but appreciation reached new heights recently when she and her fellow students got to read to students from books they had donated to the students.
The students participated in a special Christmas project with Dee that has been going on for 35 years thanks to the efforts of Wahlquist Junior High School Spanish teacher Gary Turner. Turner used to work with a nurse who worked with a Hispanic family of migrant workers. His students had helped provide Christmas for families of migrant workers, and when he found out most of the students of the families went to Dee school, he expanded the Christmas project to the whole school.
He also started a tutoring program in which his Spanish club students come to the school once a week to tutor students with English-speaking skills, math and reading. His 80 students rotate among about 200 Dee students each week.
"It's really a win-win," Turner said.
On Thursday morning his students came with performers from the local youth singing and acting group, Class Act, and Wahlquist's Chamber Choir to stage a Christmas program for the student body. After the performances, students who had been tutored stuck around and watched as the Wahlquist students scattered nearly 3,000 books across the steps around the rotunda. Students were each handed a bag with a few small gifts and told they could pick out eight to 10 books of their choice.
Graciela Aparicio teaches at Dee and has worked with Turner on the tutoring program and the Christmas project for the past 13 years.
"The kids look forward to this Christmas celebration every year," Aparicio said. She has watched the children grow each year, not only from getting new books but from the tutoring program as well. She said the students look forward to this day, because many of them don't have access to reading material other than the books they check out from the library.
Kindergartner Giovana Ferreia could barely wipe the smile from her face as she sifted through her books. She was most excited about the junior cookbook she chose.
"I can cook with my mom and show her some things," Giovana said with a huge grin. She said she has been able to go home and teach her mom some English words; now she can teach her to read an English cookbook.
"I love helping other people like they help me," she said as she pointed to some of the tutors around the room.
Kalle sat with a large group of students showing her their books and having them read to her. The ninth-grader loved the interplay.
"This is amazing. It's so much more than I thought it would be," she said happily.
Turner said many of his students come away with that attitude.
"Well, just look at them," he said, pointing to the students all crowded around and sitting on the laps of the junior high students.
"They come to love them," he said, but the feeling is mutual. "We don't have this diversity where we are. All they get is the bad ideas they read from the paper about Hispanic kids with the gangs and all. With this, they see it's not all about that."
Janette Bishchoff's Class Act performing group got involved with Turner's Christmas event several years ago when one of her performers was a student at Wahlquist. They started performing at the event and haven't looked back, she said. Her performers also help pass out the books and gifts that day.
Turner's students also delivered gingerbread houses and toys to Ogden Regional Medical Center as well as the George Wahlen Veterans Home.