FAIRMONT — With a determined look in her eyes, Hilde Betonte looked across the classroom and told students, “You’re all explorers today.”
She and her husband Anthony Betonte, a retired educator, have read to Wendy Wells’ Edgemont Head Start Center students so many times they now call the couple grandma and grandpa. On Wednesday, Anthony read to students the counting book “Ten For Me” by Barbara Mariconda.
“They need to get the idea that they themselves can understand our language and work with it,” he said.
The book involves two kids who embark on a challenge to see who can catch the most butterflies. The author not only tells a story, but incorporates math and science and other disciplines in the book. Anthony Betonte, who grew up in Nutter Fort and now lives in Fairmont, said kids need the imagery to expand their minds.
“The kids themselves need to come up with ideas that they can begin to use and they need to have words and images and they take images and they use those,” he said. “It’s what we call imaginal education. You use an image, it gives you a way to understand the world.
“It’s important to begin to get an idea of how the world can be a different and better place all the time. So, I’m hoping that these children can begin to see a way that they themselves can build the world.”
The Betonte’s are part of a cadre of volunteer readers who help Literacy Volunteers of Marion County carry out their mission of promoting reading and literacy. This week, the nonprofit donated 175 books to the Head Start locations in Marion County, above and beyond the 300 books the nonprofit donated last weekend at the Marion County Schools’ Community Literacy Fair.
Wells said building a culture of literacy with preschool children starts with a foundation that must involve excitement.
“It’s awesome for children to see that reading is exciting to older people as well as younger people. They’ve brought in a variety of different types of books,” Wells said. “They’ve come to be friends with the children so it’s not just someone their age or their parents age or even their grandparents age. The readers today are probably their great-grandparents’ age so, they get to see that reading is exciting for a lot of different people.”
At the end of the school day Wednesday, Head Start students got to take home their personal copy of “Ten For Me” and all of the excitement that came with the Betonte’s reading.
“We stress language and literacy and also promote the children being read to at home. This book is going to be in their possession — their parents will be able to read it and it’s a fun book.”
Each page contains little snippets of information about butterflies, which will allow parents to go more in-depth with the books when they read it to their children.
“A lot of research for many, many years has shown that children who are talked to and children who are read to have a better vocabulary,” Wells said. “Children with better vocabularies do better in school and they just generally do better in life because they are able to communicate much better and it all starts with their parents reading to them at home and then them wanting to read to themselves and wanting to learn new information.
“We try to make it really exciting that this book is going to teach us something, that it’s not just a story, there’s something we can learn in every single book.”
Literacy Volunteers of Marion County Executive Director Susan May echoed Wells’ comments about reading and research.
“Research has shown that kids who are not reading at grade level by third grade will have trouble catching up afterwards, so our goal is to decrease illiteracy by reaching these kids early so they don’t become adults that can’t read,” May said.
She said the goal is to foster adults who not only read but promote reading and also read to their children.
“Almost everything you do — I don’t care what the job is — requires some form of reading at some level. My hat goes off to those adults that are able to function in the world without reading past a fifth grade level. It takes a lot of knowledge and wisdom to be able to do that, but we’re here to help you.
“It is the village approach. If we can get kids reading at home at a young age, hopefully, they won’t need to be tutored when they get older. And that’s our real goal.”
Literacy Volunteers of Marion County can be reached at learntoreadmarion.net or by phone at 304-366-6055.