William H. Bashaw Elementary School first grader Adam Perkowski likes story time, but the books he heard April 26 were a little special.
He listened to Lakewood Ranch High School senior Lantz Barton read “The Lonely Lion,” which Barton himself had written. Afterward, Adam leaned over to look at the pictures again.
“In the beginning, he was lonely, but he met some friends,” Adam said of the story.
His classmate, Skyler Cruz, added: “I like that he got friends.”
The children not only heard a good story, but Barton loved sharing it and doing learning activities with the children
Seven-year-old Kinzey Harrod even tried to show him another book she liked, called “There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow.”
The book-sharing event was part of the annual “Winnie the Pooh and Shakespeare Too” literacy program, a decades-long partnership between Lakewood Ranch High School and Bashaw.
Each year, senior English students from Lakewood Ranch come to Bashaw Elementary to share children’s stories they have authored.
Lakewood Ranch High School English teacher Candice DeLazzer said seniors start by writing a research paper on children’s literacy during the first semester of their senior year. They focus on why literacy is important and how children’s authors can imbed lessons into their stories.
After that, students are assigned an elementary grade level and tasked with writing a book complementing that grade’s curriculum and skills focus. The culmination of their work is reading their books. This year, about 280 seniors participated, DeLazzer said.
“It brings together all the things they’re learning about this year — plot, characterization,” DeLazzer said. “Add grammar, formatting and technology and they create a book.”
Students also develop three “learning” activities to go with their books, whether matching games, word search puzzles or another idea. The tasks should be fun, but they should also reinforce the book’s lesson or other skills learned.
After hearing Chase Onstine’s and Luke French’s story, “Llama in a Well,” kindergartner Kennedi Light played “Pin the Tail on the Llama” and grinned wide after succeeding. Onstine and French may have helped her a little.
Six-year-old Ellaina Davis also liked the stories she heard and the activities that followed.
“I liked playing (matching) cards,” she said. “They put some smart in my mind so I know how to read.”
Books for Bashaw’s older students focused on educational topics. Eighteen-year-old Jennifer Carter’s book “Billy Learns About His Body,” told the story of Billy as he navigated high school sports injuries and other situations and included facts about the body’s systems.
She and her partner Jimmy Kellman created a hand from paper, attaching straws to the fingers and running string through them. Children could pull the string and make the “fingers” move.
“They made it fun,” 10-year-old Tyler Connelly, a fifth grader, said. “When they were reading, they made us laugh. I learned about the biggest muscles and in a year how much your heart beats.”
Fifth grade teacher Brianne Alexander said the program is invaluable. Having taught at Bashaw for 14 years, she’s worked in second, third and now fifth grades. At each level, the children respond to having high school seniors share not only their books, but also about life and learning.
“The kids look forward to the older kids coming in. They look up to them,” Alexander said. “It really pushes my kids and motivates them to do well in school.”