Many positive opportunities to spend quality time at home and instill the love of learning have arisen following COVID-19 school closures.
At St. Luke Parish, one opportunity is engaging children’s imaginations by reading a good book. Father Andrew Brierley, pastor of the Palm Springs parish, has been reading classical literature daily to a virtual audience since the school transitioned to distance learning in March. “Once St. Luke School adapted to distance learning, teachers were keenly aware that students needed encouragement to read,” said Father Brierley, adding there were three strategic areas of concern: keep the flow of assigned classroom reading, offer appointments to check out books at the school library and focus on the art of reading by example.
The parish decided to reach students via Facebook, with the first reading of “The Wind in the Willows.” Next, was a selection from “The Famous Five” series by Enid Blyton, author of the Noddy Classic Storybooks. “The Famous Five: Five on a Treasure Island” was followed by his current read, “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Throughout the shutdown, the school library was accessible by appointment, following social distancing guidelines. A summer project to computerize the library with ID cards using barcode equipment was recently completed. The summer reading program focused on 100 books geared towards children, the titles dovetailing with each classroom’s required book reports. Father Brierley poked fun at his fondness of classic tomes. “We hold the Scholastic Book Fair every year and the first thing I ask is, ‘Where are the classics?’”
Copies of the books – all 100 – are available thanks to a special project of St. Edward Parish’s Women’s Guild, whose mission is to nurture the community through volunteerism and acts of faith. “Our mission, with Msgr. (Thomas Klinzing) at the helm, was to reach out and help those in need,” explained JoAnne Burkholder, the guild president at the time of the library project. “We don’t have our own parish-supported school: through the guild, there are many support efforts to Catholic schools in our area.”
Father Brierley reached out to Msgr. Thomas Klinzing, pastor of St. Edward Church, with a request for the books—a list of titles five pages long. Msgr. Klinzing turned the list over to members of the Women’s Guild. Each armed with pages of titles, the women went shopping. “It was like a treasure hunt to go out and find the books,” Burkholder remarked. “It’s a wonderful thing to help the students, to broaden them with classic novels. We were so excited to deliver the books, knowing what an impact they would have.” We collected every children’s story imaginable,” she continued. “When Father Brierley took us to the classroom to meet the children, we could not describe the joy we felt to see those children’s expressions.”
When children are read to, explained Father Brierley, the inflection of tone, breathing intervals and excitement of a storyline can generate interest in young readers. Self-directed study at home can take on positive reinforcement if a child is encouraged to retell the story in their own words, draw a particular scene or act out a character’s lines.
As part of Catholic Schools Week in January 2020, elementary students paraded through St. Luke School wearing book jacket vests made from brown bags and carried their favorite book in celebration of literacy awareness. “It takes a bit more effort to get boys to read, but when they catch on, they jump at the concept,” Father Brierley remarked. “Reading proficiency has soared since we introduced the classics.”
St. Luke Catholic School is a Notre Dame ACE Academy, a university-school partnership with an emphasis on Catholic school culture, advancement, and teaching and learning. This multi-faceted, foundational approach produces age-appropriate advancement in a safe and flourishing environment.
“We are restocking the library with a French series of 26 books called ‘Asterid’s Gaul’,” said Father Brierley. “It’s the story of the Roman occupation of a village in Gaul with certain holdouts that are humorous. Stories like these transport children to places not yet known, enhancing their understanding of the world.”
After a few days of online absence due to the parish’s COVID-19 closure, the school received dozens of phone calls wanting to know, “Where is Father?” Father Brierley recognized the need to pre-record chapters prior to re-opening the school on August 10. When asked about the importance of laying aside technology and picking up a book to hold it in your hands, the answer is simple. “Reading is good for you!” Father exclaimed. He enthusiastically reminds students that his guest appearances will continue in the classrooms.
Father Brierley expressed that, in a world filled with electronic devices, grasping the value of reading a book is paramount to a child’s success and is fundamental to language proficiency. Context clues within passages can aid a young reader to interpret the meaning by listening intently. Descriptive phrasing and creative spinning of a story also elicits pictures in a developing mind and consistency develops good reading habits. At St. Luke School, there is a high population of students experiencing English as a new language, making reading an excellent form of reinforcement in comprehending language basics. Reading before bedtime, continued Father Brierley, is beneficial no matter the age and is a great way to bring the day to a calm end.
To learn more about the 17 diocesan schools in the Diocese of Palm Beach, visit diocesepbschools.org or follow the Office of Catholic Schools on Facebook @DoPBCatholicSchools. For more information about St. Luke School, visit stlukepalmsprings.org or follow the school on Facebook @stlukecatholicschool.
By Debra Magrann