Celebrating literacy at Prairie Norton


By Dedra Cordle

Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
Linda Pettit, an environmental education specialist at Franklin County Soil and Water, reads “Crawdad Creek” by Scott Sanders to Lyndsey Harbin’s third grade class at Prairie Norton Elementary School on Oct. 19. Pettit made two special appearances at the school during their week-long celebration of literacy.

The students in Lyndsey Harbin’s third grade class sat by the stream on high alert.

In their hands were animals, some cold blooded, some warm, that could have proved to be a major distraction.

Rather than solely focusing on these creatures, their attention was turned to the human by the bottom on the stream.

In her hands was a book called “Crawdad Creek” that spoke about the importance of healthy habitats and how happy they make the animals who live in the world.

As she flipped the pages, the students braced for their cue.

“OK, who has the rabbit?” asked Linda Pettit, who is an environmental education specialist at Franklin County Soil and Water.

“I do,” said the rabbit holder.

“Now place the rabbit where you think it would go in the stream,” Pettit requested.

“It doesn’t go in the stream,” he said. “It will drown. It drinks near the stream.”

As Pettit read further into the book, similar situations played out with the students ready to spring into action.

The exercise – which Pettit described as a lesson in reading comprehension complete with interactive engagement – was part of a program she designed specifically for Prairie Norton Elementary School’s fourth annual Literacy Week.

She said she is often told by teachers at the schools she visits that they wish they had more time to teach scientific subjects in conjunction with the language arts so she relishes the opportunity to fill that void for them.

“Literacy is really important, especially in the scientific world,” she said. “I think many people don’t make that connection between science and reading, but there is so much connection between the two.”

She said she was very impressed by the level of engagement and comprehension by the students at Prairie Norton and was certain there were more than a few budding scientists in those classrooms.

Oct. 19 marked the first time Pettit made an appearance at the school for Literacy Week.

She was invited by Trinia Martin, the school’s literacy coach, who wanted to show the children how reading comprehension intersects with every other subject.

“We do like to challenge their perspective,” she said.

Each year the school celebrates Literacy Week, Martin said the staff and administration try to switch up the lessons and themes to ensure that the level of excitement students have for this week stays high.

“They truly enjoy this week,” said Principal Mike Gosztyla.

It wasn’t always that way though.

More than five years ago, the school hosted Literacy Night as a way to get parents more engaged with what their children were learning in the classroom.

After negative feedback from the parents – Martin explained a majority of the parents had scheduling conflicts at night – the school decided to switch it up by making it more morning friendly. This move proved to be popular.

By the following year, demand to see what their children were doing in the classroom reached an all-time high and the school hosted their first week-long literacy event four years ago.

For most of the morning, parents will buddy-up with their children and join them for their classes. They read to each other, engage with the teachers and even jump in on some of the wilder themes that take place over the course of the week.

Gosztyla said he has a suspicion that the children’s level of excitement for this week – which comes only after some holiday breaks – has to do with seeing their parents or relatives in the classroom with them.

“Students want their parents to like their teachers and they want their teachers to like their parents,” he said with a laugh.

He said he considered this week a win for all involved.

“We celebrate the importance of literacy, the students, parents and staff are all engaged and we build those connections that are so important to the success of a school and community.”

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