Harlan Elementary School’s Thursday Night Stories Encourage Reading and Community


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This screenshot from a Harlan Elementary Bedtime Stories live stream shows only a portion of those online.

A Wilmington school’s nighttime stories program started keeping students engaged while classes went virtual and has become a cultural touchstone for students, families, and teachers.

Every Thursday night, up to 70 Harlan Elementary School students and their families tune in to her Bedtime Stories via Zoom to hear a teacher read a book. During the 30-minute program, a teacher or principal Tracey Roberts highlights aspects of the story that students can connect with. Prizes are awarded, including copies of books.

“We want to foster a love of learning and a love of reading,” Roberts said. “We want students to be excited about reading different kinds of books, so they know that when you hear a book or read a book, you can always relate to it in some way. another one.”

Some of these connections may be personal – the main character may have a brother, as may the student – or it may be a connection to another book or movie with the same theme or character type.

The 70 students who attend Bedtime Stories represent about one-fifth of the school’s students, who are 96% African American, 3% Latino and 1% other.

It started in January 2021 and ended with the school year, but when the kids returned to in-person classes for the 2021-2022 year, many kept asking if it was coming back. He did it in October.

The number of participants has increased steadily since the program began, Roberts said. She hopes to find ways to continue this growth.

Online, kids are excited to see themselves and see Roberts and their teachers. A year after it started, it’s common for students walking through school hallways to stop and tell teachers or friends they saw them on the Bedtime Stories live stream.

“What we get out of it is definitely the sense of community,” Roberts said. “Families feel, and they report that students feel, that we have a common language for the books we’ve read and the topics we’ve discussed, or the strategies we’ve learned from the books . »

Teachers sign up for time slots to read and they choose their own books.

The favorite book this year was “Inside My World” by Adina Travis, Roberts said. It was read by Travis’ twin sister, Harlan’s teacher, Ashley Graves. Travis joined the Zoom, which thrilled the students and their families.

“The comments were that they would like this to happen more frequently,” Roberts said.

Families of college students get reminders like this on Bedtime Stories.

She hasn’t crunched the numbers to see if the program has increased reading scores, but thinks connecting the love of stories to reading will eventually.

“I can’t tell you right now that academically it’s impacted test scores or their reading levels,” she said, “But it’s created a sense of community here. as well as students with a voice and an understanding of the types of literature that they are interested in and interested in reading.

Dr. Shannon Gagnon, a reading specialist at Harlan, hopes the program will eventually increase reading scores.

Already, she said, students and family identify with the fact that Bedtime Stories is “a Harlan thing.”

“The connectedness that you can feel FF on Bedtime Stories, you can feel it just in the building,” she said. “Like it’s one more thing to bring us closer than we have in common.”

Students encourage other students to come, she says.

Gagnon said his own family looks forward to him every week.

“I believe showing students and their families that you can read these great books and listen to these great books hopefully encourages them to read more, maybe on their own,” Gagnon said. “And hopefully fostering that love of reading may have an impact on our reading scores.

“And even if you don’t, it helps everyone love reading.”

Harlan’s librarian, Regina McAlonan, also sees students getting excited about bedtime stories.

“I’ve had a few kids who recognize the stories from the evening and know that this or that teacher read it to us,” she said. “So they make personal connections.”

A favorite she’s heard mentioned many times is “Stick Man,” by Julia Donaldson. It features a man made of…wait…sticks who is estranged from his family home and has many recurring adventures.

McAlonan plans to launch an exhibit that will feature only books read through the Bedtime Stories program.

“Anything you can do to get kids excited about stories encourages them to become a reader,” she said. “This is where it starts.”

Library volunteer Pam Fraser says her grandson Khiyon, who is in fourth grade, really enjoys bedtime stories.

Fraser, who is 65, is passionate about helping children learn to read because when she was a child black people were not welcome in libraries.

“I struggled a lot with the reading,” she said. “So I’m here at the library because I’m really trying to not only encourage reading, but to encourage more kids not to fall into this trap that I was in.”

She urges young students to get books like “Pete the Cat,” a series created by American artist James Dean, Dave Pilkey’s “Dog Man” series, and Jeff Pilkey’s “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series. Kinney.

Older students seem to gravitate toward graphic novels. The boys seem to like superhero stories, she says, while the girls opt for “Twins” by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright. In this series, two sisters compete in sports, elections and more.

For Bedtime Stories, teachers at Harlan try to choose books at the third-grade level, to hit the middle of grades K-5.

Other favorites on the livestream were “Hey, Tuskegee” by Robert Constant, about Alabama Historically Black College and University, and “A Little Spot of Confidence,” part of a series of books by Diane Alber that focuses on different emotions and emotions. qualities, including anxiety, fear, kindness and patience. Several of the books were read during Bedtime Stories.

Books like the “A Spot of” series help students with the social and emotional learning that helps them find their place in the world, Roberts said.

Now, she says, it’s easier for her or teachers to say to an upset or frightened child, “imagine if you have a stain on your hand” as a way to introduce coping methods.

“We can always go back to those stories they heard to help them in some way as they go through the day,” she said.

Roberts promotes the Bedtime Stories live stream to parents through routine school messages. She reminds students at school, but she has learned that it is useful to remind parents on the day and send a final reminder by email around 7:25 p.m. on Thursdays.

The headmistress promises the kids she’ll be there no matter what, and she’s committed enough to the program to read from a chair in a hotel room when she’s on vacation.

She even promised the kids she’d be there on Thanksgiving night and was horrified when she fell asleep in her chair after dinner and missed the connection.

Roberts still apologizes for it.

Bedtime Stories isn’t the school’s only effort to help its students develop a love of reading.

Roberts was very excited about working with United Way of Delaware’s My Very Own Library program last year. It allowed each student to choose five books from the annual Scholastic Book Fair. The program then gave students a backpack full of these five and five more, many of them about African Americans or written by African American authors.

Members of the Delaware Blue Coats read in class and on March 2, members of the Wilmington Police Department will come to Harlan to read to students.

If you want to join Harlan Elementary’s bedtime stories, or if you are a writer and would like to appear on a segment, contact Principal Tracey Roberts at [email protected]

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