Portland school promotes reading with ‘Teddy Talks’

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PORTLAND — In a novel approach to getting students more excited about reading, the East End Community School has introduced a new initiative called Teddy Talks.

At least once a week, the school plans to upload a video of staff or members of the community reading a book aloud, which students can then access online anytime, anywhere and however many times they like.

The videos are on the school’s Facebook page, said Principal Boyd Marley, who was the inaugural guest reader when Teddy Talks kicked off earlier this month.

He read “The Dot,” by Peter H. Reynolds, which celebrates the creative spirit that resides in all of us. Marley said this week that the new program is vital because “reading aloud is one of the most important things we can do for our children.”

“Reading aloud builds many important foundational skills, introduces vocabulary, provides a model of fluent, expressive reading, and helps children recognize what reading for pleasure is all about,” he said.

With the new Teddy Talks, Marley said the school can use readily available technology to bring reading to children wherever they are all while building up a love of reading in the community as a whole.

So far guest readers have mostly been staff at East End School, but recently community Police Officers Alissa Poisson and Coreena Behnke were asked to read a story for Teddy Talks. The book they chose was “Let’s Go Froggy.”

The book, by Jonathan London, uses “kid pleasing sound effects and punchy illustrations,” according to the Penguin Random House website, which makes it “the perfect choice for the read-aloud crowd.”

Marley’s hope for Teddy Talks is that the videos can expand to include fun science experiments, music recitals or other live performances, and more.

He credits art teacher Melissa Maher with bringing the idea for Teddy Talks forward after she heard about a principal who reads aloud to her students and then posts it on YouTube. “We thought this would be a great way to bring literacy (right) into the homes of our students,” Marley said.

He said the name, Teddy Talks, is a play on the TED Talk organization, which specializes in using short, powerful public talks to help spread ideas and solve problems.

In addition to providing the chance for students to have a story read to them anytime they like, Marley said the Teddy Talks will also help the school make better connections with families. “Our hope is that students will be excited to see staff they know as well as meeting new staff,” he said.

Marley said Teddy Talks can also be key in exposing the students and their families to books about different types of people, places or things they might not normally think about or be exposed to.

East End Community School serves students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, but Marley said the Teddy Talks aren’t just for the youngest kids at the school. “They’re for all ages, including younger siblings at home.”

Most importantly, he said, “we’re asking staff and community members to connect with kids by recording themselves reading a book of their choice.” And, what’s been great, Marley said, is the “more Teddy Talks we post the more (people are) getting involved.”

Overall, he said both students and parents seem excited about the Teddy Talks and “we hope to continue to spread the word and build our audience.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Portland Police Officers Alissa Poisson, left, and Coreena Behnke read “Let’s Go Froggy” as part of East End Community School’s new Teddy Talks initiative. The video of them reading aloud was posted to the school’s Facebook page, where students can watch it anytime.

Boyd Marley, principal at Portland’s East End Community School, kicked off the new Teddy Talks program by reading “The Dot.”

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