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West Valley City Journal

Community members help Whittier STEAM Elementary readers reach their goal

Mar 09, 2023 11:54AM ● By Peri Kinder

Students from Whittier STEAM Elementary earned a free movie by reading 1,000 pages each during the last term. Donors provided movie tickets and treats for each child. (Photos courtesy of Whittier STEAM)

When teachers at Whittier STEAM Elementary (3585 S. 6000 West) set an academic goal for each student to read 1,000 pages during the second term, the community jumped in to help make that happen. 

More than 100 volunteers, including parents, relatives, students from Hunter Junior High and Hunter High School, Granite School District personnel and school board members took time to listen to kids read and encourage them to keep going.

“I didn’t know we needed all of (the volunteers) until the very end,” said Whittier Principal Jennifer Bodell. “It’s what made it even more magical. The kids saw that not only did their teachers care, but these strangers cared. It was like there was more than just a teacher who believed in me, there are a lot of adults who believe in me and I can do this. It was amazing.”

With a student body of more than 430, Whittier STEAM educators like to issue a challenge each term that aligns with the school’s goals. At least 95% of the students reached the reading goal, including kindergarteners who were challenged to learn all their letters and sounds, and read 500 pages. Special education students and medically-fragile children also received extra support so they could take part in the challenge.

Older students read along with younger children, teachers encouraged non-readers to keep them motivated and the Whittier staff got creative with ways to keep students engaged and on track. 

One day, teachers turned off all the lights in the classroom, gave each student a flashlight and set up a pretend campfire so students could read by camp light. On another day, students could dress like their favorite book character. 

During the last couple weeks of the challenge, community volunteers stepped up to cheer on the students who still had pages to read. At the end of the term, in January, hundreds of students had earned a field trip to West Valley City Cinemark Theater to watch “Despicable Me” with their classmates and enjoy popcorn, a drink and a snack, free of charge.

“I partnered with some neighbors and they were willing to foot the bill for the movie,” Bodell said. “I have some great neighbors. We rented three theaters and provided snacks for each child. The donors came, too, and their reward was seeing the faces of the kids. It was so amazing. To me it’s a big deal. Kids have to learn anyway, so let’s have fun.”

Whittier STEAM educators have committed to use teamwork to achieve success throughout the school. By holding each student accountable for their actions, with encouragement and support from the community, Bodell hopes the students realize they can accomplish anything and continue to set and achieve goals.

“The movie was the reward but what was more exciting is we were all working toward the same goal. Even the adults did it. We all read 1,000 pages,” Bodell said. “It was fun for non-readers and kids who loved reading accomplished the goal easily. The community really came together to help the students who needed a little more support.”