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South Jordan Journal

Students curl up with good books, showcase their own during Monte Vista readathon

Apr 12, 2024 12:24PM ● By Julie Slama

Monte Vista fourth-grade students show their books they created that were displayed at the school’s first readathon. (Christie Matheson/Monte Vista)

On a Thursday night this winter, students and their parents wrapped themselves up in blankets. Some were laying on the library or hallway floors with pillows under their heads. Some pushed chairs and desks together and got underneath.

It wasn’t an evacuation assembly area or a giant slumber night. It was Monte Vista’s first readathon.

Nearly 100 students and their families showed up — to read.

“It was a quiet event,” said fourth grade teacher Christie Matheson. “Students and their families came in and explored some of the classroom reading activities, but for the most part, they found a spot and sat down to read. It was fun to see the kids randomly sit in the hallways, classrooms and library and reading books. Some wore pajamas, some brought blankets and pillows. They got into the spirit of it by curling up to read or using blankets between tables to create tents to read in.”

The readathon was a casually planned event, with input from teachers and the community.

“There were four or five themed rooms. One was an autobiography room and there were discussions about the books and what they learned from them. Another room had picture books and it was designed that only picture books were read in that room,” Matheson said.

Matheson’s 26-member class became authors and illustrators of their own stories prior to the readathon so she was in her classroom to explain the project. The fourth graders had spent several weeks creating their books.

“They’re self-reflective books; they used mixed media and poetry to tell readers about who they are,” she said.

Matheson cut cereal and other thin cardboard boxes into squares, seven inches by seven inches, to make the covers of the books. Then, students covered them with specific wrapping paper.

“They choose wrapping paper that best represented them in some way, so maybe they chose a brown pattern to represent their brown eyes. Then, on the front cover, we just had a whole bunch of materials, and they were able to decorate the front cover based on that,” she said.

Again, it wasn’t random, but rather using mixed media — scrapbook paper, beans, foam, oil, pastels, watercolors, string and more — to decorate it as “What they thought the world saw them as physically,” Matheson said.   

Inside the book the pages pulled out to four different sections with each to represent how they see themselves on the inside — what are their dreams and wishes or what are their strengths. The only text was a poem – an original piece or an already published work they may have studied or memorized — to represent their own uniqueness or a goal they wanted to achieve.  

“It was fun to see the students come up with their dreams and wishes and put it into art form. They’re all different because this is their interpretation, using skills they were taught,” she said.

On the back cover, parents wrote reviews about them. 

“It was just like a regular book, and they signed it as an author and an artist. We spent several weeks on them; they were just amazing,” Matheson said. “The students learned how to put themselves out there. Some said it was harder to create the outside than the inside, to be vulnerable enough to say, ‘This is how I think the world sees me.’ Others said, ‘It’s easy to do the inside, I know about myself,’ but a few found it hard because they were like, ‘I don’t tell everybody that part.’”

During the readathon, a white board allowed visitors to give feedback to the books, prompted by questions, “What did you think of their art? What did you think of the book?” 

“We wanted people to read the books and it was fun to see their responses,” she said.  “The books tied into their visual art and literature curriculum. They learned vocabulary and can talk about foreground, middle ground, shadowing and background. They reviewed the vocabulary that goes along with art skills and were able to use both. They also learned about sequencing and used planning and organization skills.”

Matheson said the students’ books were based on the idiom, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

“The project was based on what we don’t see when we look at someone new. It’s a way for students to understand judging what we think we know about someone when we first see them versus getting to really know them. That’s something we talked about with this project, like, if they met a businessperson, can they look beyond the surface and see they’re into high adventure and traveled the world? I want them to realize there’s more to a person than what we see about them just like with books. We don’t judge a book by its cover so we shouldn’t judge people by their cover.  We shouldn’t judge them; we should look deeper and learn more about them. I hope students learn to pause and look deeper when they meet someone new,” she said.

As students wandered into the library, they received a bookmark from the PTA. For many kids this is where they wanted to read a picture book or finish a chapter in a chapter book. Even Principal Natalie Gleave sat in her office chair with a blanket thrown over her and read.

“Some read to their parents, or the parents read to their kids. Some kids were reading while sitting right next to their parents, side by side, reading their own books. Some of our older students were reading their Battle of the Books,” Matheson said, referring to the optional afterschool program for third- through sixth-graders who read 20 books per year and then compete on teams in a Family Feud-style knowledge challenge at the end of the school year.  “It was a fun experience to be at school reading when it wasn’t part of the school day. The parents seemed to enjoy it because they didn’t just come from work, and they weren’t rushing to go to another event. It was coming to read.”

Matheson organized the readathon to encourage reading for simply the joy of it.

“I wanted to promote reading for the joy of reading, not because it’s for an assignment or it’s part of the job. There’s enjoyment in reading; there’s relaxation; there’s curiosity; there’s learning something new,” she said. “With everything that’s going on in the world, there was something magical about this night, about having that time to sit and read.” λ