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Education

Austin ISD Librarians Looked Outside To Get Elementary School Students Reading Together Again

Librarian Amy Rattananinad reads to first-graders at Dawson Elementary during a story stroll last week.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Librarian Amy Rattananinad reads to first-graders at Dawson Elementary during a story stroll last week.

One of the casualties of social distancing during the pandemic has been the ability for elementary school students to read together. There is no gathering in a circle on the floor while the teacher reads a story. There are no trips to the library together for activities.

 Pages from a children's story book are blown up and attached to the fence outside Dawson's Elementary.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Pages from a children's story book are blown up and attached to the fence outside Dawson's Elementary.

“Things have been really different this year,” Amy Rattananinad, the librarian at Dawson Elementary School in the Austin Independent School District, says. “We’ve had to get really creative with the ways we serve our students.”

One of these creative solutions is a story stroll. The idea is to take a picture book and blow up each page, print it out, laminate it, and place each page a few feet from the next outside a school.

A group of AISD librarians saw a similar project in Vermont and decided to recreate it. Rattananinad says it’s a simple idea, but she and the other librarians hope it creates a new experience for students in a year when so much was taken away.

“We can create these reading experiences for students that are COVID safe, where friends can spread out and enjoy the fresh air,” she says.

The First Stroll

Story book pages are attached with velcro to the fence outside Dawson Elementary in South Austin. There are a few feet between each page, so the students can read the book in small groups while socially distancing.

First-grade teacher Jessica Dement leads her students through the book Love by Matt de la Peña. Each page gives an example of how to show love: fishing with a grandparent, waving goodbye to a parent who is leaving for work, dancing when you feel joy.

“What’s something you love a lot?” Dement asks the students after they read a page.

They shout their responses: stuffed animals, a baby brother, Pokémon.

One boy points to an illustration of a mom riding the bus with her child.

“I’ve been on the bus before,” he says. “I like the bus because we don’t have to walk and we can sit down.”

Safe Social Activities

Dement says this kind of activity is important for socialization. When the students are inside she has to keep them apart, so outdoor activities are more relaxing.

“When we have more people together, you see that they are a lot happier,” she says.

She says variety of any kind is helpful, because there are so many restrictions now.

“It’s great because I love anything where we’re up and moving,” she says. “You know this year has been a lot of sitting, and we have to do a lot of brain breaks, so I think this is a great way to get them up and reading and active.”

Students from substitute teacher LaKatheryn Shaw's first-grade class participate in a story stroll at Dawson Elementary School in Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Students line up to read a book hanging on the fence. The outdoor activity gets them away from screens and allows them to socialize.

Books selected for the story strolls promote diversity and anti-racist messages.

“The first step of that is selecting books that reflect all kinds of identities, all kinds of lived experiences, that affirm and celebrate all kinds of different people," says Rattananinad, who is leading another group of students behind Dement's class.

After she finishes reading to the group, she asks the students about their favorite part. One girl says she likes the page when a bunch of neighbors come together.

“I like that it shows sweetness," she says.

Thirty-six AISD elementary schools have set up a story stroll. Anyone can stop by to read the books.

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