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The Guardian
February 22, 2008

A slam dunk
Revived APM School is Cool reading program has UPEI Panther athletes becoming role model readers to elementary school children to promote literacy and foster a love of the written word.

Some members of the UPEI Panthers men’s and women’s basketball teams have certainly been hitting the books of late, but it’s not all to do with their university studies.

Their voluntary reading list includes Grandpa Dan’s Toboggan Ride, Puppies in the Snow and more children’s favourites for their APM School is Cool reading program’s in-school campaign to promote literacy to elementary school students.

To date, 10 athletes from both Panther teams have acted like pied pipers of books, leading children toward an understanding that reading is not only for learning, it’s for fun.

“You know it’s good when there’s applause at the end,” laughs Cindy Fraser-Yazdani, educational assistant at L.M. Montgomery Elementary School, as a group of Grade 1 students claps with glee at a story-telling job well done by a trio of Panther volunteers.

CIS Academic All-Canadian student-athlete Shakir Chambers co-ordinated the four-week literacy program, sponsored by APM, with help from Bob Gray, assistant coach with the women’s UPEI team.

“I actually want to become a teacher so this is part of the reason I did it,” says Chambers, who hails from Toronto, Ont.

“But one of the major reasons I did it was, I was in an education class and a girl was saying . . . that (UPEI students) that come from away don’t really care about the P.E.I. community. I was kind of shocked because I really care about (the community) no matter where I am.”

And so Chambers recruited Panther volunteers and the readings began. L.M. Montgomery Elementary was one of the last stops on their four-week School is Cool reading program.

“They came a few weeks ago, I guess it was right after Christmas and the kids just loved it. A few of them now have attended a basketball game and a hockey game, so I think that’s pretty sweet,” says Grade 1 teacher Maureen Trautman.

“The kids can see that (reading) is cool and they can do well academically as well as excel at sports, and that’s very important for kids to see that they can do both.”

And it’s not just straight reading time. The athletes tell their stories about what they are studying, their career aspirations and even what books they like now and what they liked when they were children.

“The kids are always like ‘oh, some of (the university courses) have weird names, like biology.’ (The students ask) ‘What’s biology?” and so they talk about what biology is and things like that,” Trautman says.

In the next L.M. Montgomery class, children gather at the foot of all four on today’s reading team, which includes Chambers, Jared Budd of Riverdale, N.B., Todd Williams of Sackville, N.S., and Cassie Goodwin of Charlottetown.

“Right now for one of my classes I’m reading about King Arthur. Do you guys know who he is?” Goodwin asks the group of Grade 1 students who responds enthusiastically to any and all of their questions.

“They’re basically a little shy at first, but then they kind of open up and want to tell us stories. And they ask us what we did yesterday, like did we go sledding? Did we read a story yesterday? So that was pretty cute that they’re interested in what we read now as grownups,” says Goodwin.

“I think as athletes maybe we don’t realize how special it is for them to have an athlete or someone as a role model to come talk to them and just tell them how important something is, such as reading or just kind of staying on track. So I think this is something we should do more of, really.”

Grade 1 teacher Julie Murchison says it is nice to see Goodwin and the other role models demonstrating the message that they read in their personal life.

“You still read for education, but we want to promote reading for leisure and enjoyment because there are lots of kids here who love to do that. But already there are some who find reading every day a challenge.

“So it’s good to have these role models, and I was especially excited to see Cassie here today to represent the women’s’ team . . . .”

It didn’t take long for Williams to warm up to the reading ritual. He dove into the story of Grandpa Dan’s Toboggan Ride with a funny ferocity that was rewarded with a rousing round of laughter at the toboggan crash finale.

“The first one I was kind of nervous, but the second one was really fun,” he says of his first reading.

“I didn’t get (the laughs) earlier today, but they really appreciated that one.”

Budd, who also fell easily into the position of role model reader, was glad for the opportunity to give back to the community in which he is earning his education and playing his sport.

“We’re in a position where people kind of look up to us, so we need to make the most out of the opportunities when we have them right now. I see how important it is to know how to read. So it was just something that I thought I should do. So here I am,” he says.

Seven-year-old Tristen Good of Charlottetown has never seen a basketball game, except on TV, but he appreciated the Panthers coming to his Grade 1 classroom.

“I like it a lot. They read lots of great stories.”

Seven-year-old Sydney Whitlock of Charlottetown has watched some of the Panther games with her parents so she was familiar with some of the players and is a fan of Chambers.

“This is the second time Shakir has read to us,” she says with a smile.

Even at her young age, she appreciates the underlying message the athletes are trying to convey.

“Like you should read a lot and you might learn stuff. And you have to learn to play sports.”

Although the four-week program has come to an end, Chambers hopes it will continue in some form.

“I would love to keep it going (in full force), but a lot of the volunteers have midterms, they have essays, so we can’t really keep it going as much as we are right now. But hopefully we can keep it going in some capacity throughout the year.”

Chambers admits he had no idea that the response from the elementary students would be as strong as it has.

“It’s just so crazy for me just to see the kids look up to us so much. I never expected that,” he says.

“When we read to them, they have smiles on their faces, they ask us for autographs. There’s no feeling like that. I really appreciate that.”

This is the top 5 list from the women's basketball team:

1) The Balloon Tree, by Phoebe Gilman
2) Just Go To Bed, by Mercer Mayer
3) Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch (and all Robert Munsch books)
4) If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, by Laura Joffe Numeroff
5) The Lorax, by Dr. Suess (and all Dr. Suess books)

As for the men's basketball team, our top 5 children's books are as follows:

1) Green Eggs & Ham, by Dr. Suess
2) Any book for the "Goosebumps" collection, all by R.L. Stine
3) Curious George, by Hans Augusto Rey
4) Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman
5) Thomas' Snowsuit, by Robert Munsch


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