Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Elementary school unlocks love for story time

Kurt Steinhaus, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Public Education

Who doesn’t love bedtime stories? That’s what Kathryn Gonzales, a librarian at Alvarado Elementary School near the North Valley, thought when she started a virtual story-time program for her school on Wednesday night.

That was two years ago; the pandemic was in full swing and students were in distance learning.

“We started last school year to fill that gap,” says Kathryn. “It was good for the kids to log in and see students from other classes and even other classes.”

Students responded so well to the nightly virtual stories that Kathryn brought the program back this fall and linked it to the PTA school’s annual read-a-thon, which has become an fall tradition. Now parents and siblings join students to watch and listen while “special guests” from the local and school community stop by online to share their favorite stories, many of which are bilingual. Those respected readers included a firefighter, the school canteen manager, and the school principal Luke Berglund.

The kids keep coming back to that low-tech bedtime.

“They just listen to the story,” which is good, she says, because “the visuals are often not that strong” and there aren’t any videos or other special effects that kids are used to. “But we as humans are programmed to listen to stories, so it stimulates that part of your brain.”

This elementary librarian realized a deep truth: connecting through storytelling is one of the best ways to connect us as people and students.

This sense of community is deeply ingrained in Alvarado, which has been educating Albuquerque Public School students in the neighborhood since the 1950s. Kathryn says that many of her school’s grandparents, parents, and teachers were taught in these classrooms – including her two daughters, now 14 and 17 years old – and she has never looked back.

“Alvarado is such a little gem,” she says, adding that the diverse population of the Dual Language Program and Title I school includes families from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds who, she says, are “the real world” represent. “Families choose this school because they believe in the public school.”

We’re nearly halfway through our year of literacy, but I never tire of hearing stories like Kathryn’s from across New Mexico about how our schools inspire this next generation of book lovers.

“I have the best job in the world,” says Kathryn. I couldn’t agree more.

Illuminated Tips: Kathryn has a few tips to help motivate students to read. # 1: Have books and other reading materials ready. For this reason, her school offers hands-on book experiences for students on a weekly basis. # 2: Be an exemplary reader. “You don’t always see that adults read for pleasure,” she says. “If you want a reader, be a reader.”

The monthly column of the designated NM PED secretary Kurt Steinhaus is part of “The Literacy Project”, which illuminates the topic in cooperation with KOAT-TV and KKOB Radio.

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