Third-grade teacher shares love of reading through after-school program

Jeanette Kendall TimesNewspapers
East Peoria Mayor Dave Mingus reads “LaRue for Mayor: Letters from the Campaign Trail” to the students in Roaring Readers. Teacher Kathy Gauwitz said she likes to invite men to read to the group because she wants boys to know the value of reading.

Kathy Gauwitz is passionate about books.

As a third-grade teacher at Lincoln School, she decided to pass along this passion to students by creating a reading program called Roaring Readers.

“I just thought it would be a lot of fun to introduce kids to the classic literature they may not have read before, different authors they may not have read before, book series because those are so much fun to read,” Gauwitz said.

Now in its fourth year, Gauwitz said the program is going well. The reading group, which is open to any of the students meets for an hour after school on Tuesdays. This year there are about 40 students in the program at Lincoln, which has third through fifth grades.

“We fill every desk, every chair. We spill out onto the floor. We have carpet, so that’s good,” Gauwitz said.

In addition to reading, other activities are planned. On one special day in October, students dress up like their favorite character from a book.

“We start out the year with a bookmark contest. They design a bookmark around a book theme or Roaring Readers,” Gauwitz said. 

Teachers judge the contest.

 When students are not reading themselves, Gauwitz reads to them.

“I absolutely love reading out loud to kids. That’s probably the real reason I started Roaring Readers,” she said, adding that she reads excerpts from books to introduce the students to different authors.

“I try to whet their appetite. They’ve been exposed to quite a few different authors. It’s really exciting to see the kids who stick with it all three years,” Gauwitz said.

There are also weekly prize drawings in which each student gets to take a book home. At the end of the year, there is a party and those students who attend Roaring Readers at least 15 times in a year, have a chance to win a book series.

“I collect book series. I use my Scholastic bonus points and I take donations,” Gauwitz said, adding that she also looks for books at Goodwill, Mission Mart, the Fondulac District Library and other places. Gauwitz often purchases books with money from her own pocket.

Every year in the summer, Gauwitz goes to Barnes and Noble to check out new book titles and series.

Some of the authors Gauwitz talked about were Judy Bloom, Peter Jackson and Patricia Polacco.

“I love Patricia Polacco. She is an incredible writer. She is very European bent. ... She always has some Yiddish speaking grandma so it’s so much fun using different voices with my kids and to sound different to them to make the reading more interesting,” Gauwitz said. “She writes with such heart.”

One of her favorite stories by Polacco is called “The Christmas Tapestry.”

“Every year I have to have someone go get me Kleenex because it’s the story of a woman who’s reunited with her husband from the Holocaust,” she said.

Gauwitz said she enjoys reading the children’s books herself and particularly likes fantasy.

“It just takes the kids to so many different places,” she said.

Plus, Gauwitz said, “I do a lot of reading of children’s literature because I don’t want to recommend something that’s inappropriate.”

For instance, Gauwitz might push the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series by Rick Riordan toward the fifth graders. However, she said there are already some third and fourth graders who are reading them.

“Some kids are just phenomenal readers,” she said.

On Dec. 9, East Peoria Mayor Dave Mingus was a guest reader at Roaring Readers. He read, “LaRue for Mayor: Letters from the Campaign Trail.”

Gauwitz said she has a reason when she invites men to read to the students.

“I want boys to understand that men read,” Gauwitz said.

Recently, another guest, Dennis Vandiver, a school board member, visited the Roaring Readers and brought juice and cookies.

As a young girl, Gauwitz’s love of reading began when her mom took her to the Moline Public Library weekly.

“We’d walk out of there with at least 30 books in our arms,” she said.

Now, she is passing along her love of reading to the students.

“The whole goal is to get books into the hands of those kids and to keep reading, because reading is so important for their education. The more vocabulary they’re exposed to, it’s just incredibly good for them,” she said.

Plus, she wants to make sure the classic are not forgotten.

“Every kid needs to have read ‘Charlotte’s Web.’ Everybody needs to have read ‘Stuart Little’ and some of the classics. A lot of kids today don’t even know the nursery rhymes,” she said.