December 6, 2021

‘Bears’ reward young Homer readers

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

SUNY Cortland speech-language pathology major Samantha Renieris helps Isabella Small, 8, of Homer, find a book to take home during Saturday’s Books and Bears reading program for children in the community at the Phillips Free Library in Homer. The program was organized by SUNY Cortland students.

The kids who visited the Phillips Free Library on Saturday morning did not leave with just a few books. They left with a cuddly friend to read with,and hopefully, a growing interest in literacy as well.

That’s because dozens of children and their parents went to the library to participate in the Books and Bears literacy program organized by SUNY Cortland students who are all members of the Epsilon Chi chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, a national honor society for those looking to pursue careers in education.

College students worked with kids at a number of craft stations, or literacy centers, which were set up in the children’s reading area in the basement of the library. There, children pieced together projects and played games intended to help them sharpen their reading skills.

Once they were finished, the children were allowed to have their pick of one of the dozens of tiny stuffed animals — mostly teddy bears — to take with them, in addition to three books that they could use to continue practicing at home.

Chapter President Lauren Nostro said Saturday this year’s Books and Bears event was made possible through a campus-wide book drive and a donation of dozens of stuffed animals given to the chapter.

This year was the second time the honor society has held the Books and Bears event at the library, Nostro said, adding she and the other college students look forward to the event for two reasons.

“Not only does it get us involved with the community but it also helps us as student teachers practice and get some experience working with children,” Nostro said.

The children participating throughout the morning were engaged in more than simply just reading words off a page. At one station, kids were learning how to count syllables. At another, they were breaking words apart into prefixes and suffixes.

Eleven-year-old Leah Bouwens and her 9-year-old sister, Hannah, had finished making puppets and were busy sorting through letters to spell out different words.

The siblings said they had attended the honor society’s literacy event last year and were eager to participate in this year’s Books and Bears event.

“We’ve only done this so far, but we really like it,” Leah Bouwens said. “It’s fun.”

Library Director Priscilla Berggren-Thomas said Saturday the library is always happy to host events put on by the honor society specifically for that reason.

“They always do a great job, the kids always have a lot of fun and of course we’re a library, so we’re always out promoting literacy,” Berggren-Thomas said. “It’s always fun to hear laughter going on at the library, too.”

Jessica Cichy, vice president of the chapter, said Saturday she was pleased to see so many parents coming out with their children. She hopes the program will encourage them to take reading seriously and to have fun doing it.

“For the children, I hope they see literacy in a positive way,” she said.