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Alexis Knight turns a page at Fisher Elementary during a half-hour “Drop Everything And Read” (DEAR) event Thursday morning. Initially conceived as an annual program scheduled to take place in April, DEAR events take place monthly in the Arlington elementary school. For that one half hour, almost the only sound in the school is the rustle of pages turning. (Elizabeth Conkey)
Alexis Knight turns a page at Fisher Elementary during a half-hour “Drop Everything And Read” (DEAR) event Thursday morning. Initially
Alexis Knight turns a page at Fisher Elementary during a half-hour “Drop Everything And Read” (DEAR) event Thursday morning. Initially conceived as an annual program scheduled to take place in April, DEAR events take place monthly in the Arlington elementary school. For that one half hour, almost the only sound in the school is the rustle of pages turning. (Elizabeth Conkey)
ARLINGTON -- The hallways of Fisher Elementary were virtually silent Thursday morning, at least for a little while.

Students and teachers alike were busy engaging in the national silent and sustained reading initiative, Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) Day.

D.E.A.R. Day is normally celebrated on April 12 of every year, in honor of children's book author Beverly Cleary's birthday, but Fisher Elementary's reading specialist, Donna Bazyk, decided that students could benefit from a more frequent participation in the initiative.

Bazyk explained that D.E.A.R. time would be "celebrated" monthly by Fisher students and teachers and said Thursday's D.E.A.R. event was the second one to take place this year.

"We too often assume that children know how to find a comfortable place to enjoy a great book," Bazyk said. "During D.E.A.R. time, teachers and students put aside their daily routine to immerse themselves in a favorite book."

Two students from Mrs. Withington's first grade class, Kaila Milette and Cale Tilley, kicked off the day by reading a Halloween-themed poem over the school's intercom during morning announcements, entitled, "Spider, Spider."

"It's a really powerful environment when you don't hear much going on in the hallways and you know everyone has a book in their hand," Bazyk said, noting that Fisher students have also been participating in a Pizza Hut reading initiative program.


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The program is broken down by month, during which time students set individual reading goals with a parent, and vow to read for at least 20 minutes each day.

Each student tracks his or her progress and classrooms set goals as well.

If goals are met, each student receives a free personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut at the end of each month.

"This program gives students that extra time to read and it also communicates to parents that reading should be extended at home as well," Bazyk said. "I know it's hard, everyone's busy, but we have to set higher expectations for our kids than we do now. We can't just expect that they're going to read all on their own. We really have to guide and coach them through this and encourage them."

Third grade teacher Jessica Kirk said she sees the value in a program like D.E.A.R.

"By the whole school stopping and reading, I think it builds a stronger school community and allows the kids to increase their love for learning and reading, too," Kirk said.

Kirk's student, Alex Realmunto, who said he enjoys reading about science, explained that he has fun during D.E.A.R. time.

"Reading a lot helps me be a better reader," he said. "I want to be the best reader I can, so when I read a lot and get better, it makes me excited."

Fourth-grader Emma Hoover, who said her favorite author is Lemony Snicket, shared similar sentiments.

"I think it's important to read a lot," she said. "It gets your imagination running. Sometimes, the stories come to life. I like that."

Bazyk said she has also collaborated with Arlington Memorial High School Advanced Placement English teacher Gayna Cross in Fisher's reading initiative.

Ten of Cross' students visited elementary classrooms Thursday, and will do the same on future D.E.A.R. days, to read aloud to students.

Bhumika Patel, a senior at AMHS and one of the "readers," said she thinks it is important for youngster to read on a regular basis.

"Reading is the foundation for growing up and communicating," she said. "You need it in all aspects of your life, so the more broadly kids can be exposed to those topics, the better they will be at certain life skills."

Fisher Elementary librarian Meghan White explained that she believes students are more likely to read often when they're reading books they've chosen themselves.

"It's extremely important to provide kids with high-interest materials," she said. "I'm a firm believer that it doesn't matter what kids are reading, as long as they're reading."

White has set up a "non-readers' table" in the library for students seeking lighter reading material.

"There's everything from hunter's safety manuals to road maps and brochures and newspapers," she said. "Just a bunch of random things that kids might be interested in reading in case they don't feel like reading a chapter book."

White added that students were given the option to write a wish-list of books they'd like to see on library shelves at the end of last year.

"After I got the lists back, I immediately went online and bought the books they wanted so that they would have them by the beginning of this year," she said. "Kids are more likely to read books that they actually want to read rather than books teachers tell them to read."

Bazyk said she hopes to foster more community involvement along with Fisher's reading initiative.

According to Bazyk, a "Firemen Read" night and spaghetti dinner is set to take place in November.

"It's all about working collaboratively as a community, coming together and making sure kids have books in their hand," she said. "It's so important."

Elizabeth A. Conkey at econkey@benningtonbanner.com or follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.