Four women who love to read are sharing that love with Heather Meldrum’s fifth-grade class at Stanley Hupfeld Academy, a north Oklahoma City charter school.
The women, who belong to a book club, have connected with students in ways the pupils’ teacher didn’t think were possible.
“The kids feel really important about being able to share something they’ve learned and something that they’ve been able to read with people that are from a completely different generation,” Meldrum said recently following the group’s second visit.
Chase Crutchfield, 11, and Helen Sullivan, 67, don’t have much in common except for a book about a family that travels from Michigan to Alabama at the height of the Civil Rights movement.
“The Watsons Go to Birmingham” has sparked an interest in reading for Chase, who once struggled to read at grade level.
“I like the book because it’s good, and it’s funny,” said Chase, one of nearly two dozen students who receive monthly visits from the women. “I like that they’re encouraging kids to read because a lot of kids sit around and play video games all day.”
Meldrum credits much of the success to the universal themes contained in the four books she has selected for her students to read.
The books that will be discussed by the children and their mentors over the next several months include characters who are fearful, bullied, lonely and neglected.
“Whether you’re 90 or you’re 9, you’ve experienced everything that has gone on in these books,” she said.
Nyla Chuku, 10, finished her book, “The Liberation of Gabriel King,” in three days.
The book’s hero is afraid of everything, including the fifth grade. His best friend, the only black kid in school in a town with an active Ku Klux Klan, is afraid of nothing.
“It’s been making me want to read at home, at school and in my free time,” Nyla said.
Meldrum didn’t think the reading club would work when she was approached by Sullivan.
The teacher wasn’t sure her students could stay on task between monthly visits by the women.
“That’s a lot to expect for kids to wait a month to be excited,” she said. “That’s not normal.”
On their last visit, Sullivan and her cohorts — Kathy Walker, Sandra LeVan and Barbara Crandall — came prepared to talk about the books and brought enough cupcakes to go around.
Lively discussions and imaginative presentations by the students followed.
“It’s a simple idea that can be replicated anywhere,” said Sullivan, who sits on the board of the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools.
Meldrum credits Sullivan with creating a love of reading that can “never be repaid.”
“That’s all she wanted,” Meldrum said. “She doesn’t want to save them. She doesn’t want to teach them a lesson. She just wants them to love to read, and by all means she has accomplished that.”