Loft Love Leads to Learning Peek into teacher Angela Kaastra’s class at Wauwanesa School in Manitoba, Canada, and you’ll see first-graders everywhere. “If you were to walk into our classroom on any given morning, you’d see students reading on the carpet, in their coat cubbies, on the couch, writing on clipboards under my teacher desk, listening to stories on iPods by the door or sitting side by side reading to a friend,” Kaastra says. The school supports an independent learning style that engages students in meaningful literacy tasks. “Children are scattered all over my classroom, working quietly. Yes, even 6-year-olds can do this!” she says enthusiastically. “I wanted to create spaces that make our little ones want to curl up with a good book or make them salivate to write in the ‘author’s chair.’” Kaastra found a helpful partner in the Wauwanesa Lions Club. Beth Smale and Margaret Martin were looking for a project in 2012 that members could do that would have real value. It didn’t have to be huge—but they wanted “something that would make a lifelong impact,” says Smale. As it turns out, the project they chose was both. The pair suggested reading to Kaastra’s class and the teacher gratefully accepted the offer. Kaastra then suggested Lions go a step further in their efforts. The room’s new Lions Literacy Loft, a raised platform with a reading area and space below for cozy, comfortable tale telling, cost the club $3,000 (US$2,700) and provides just the special space Kaastra had hoped to give her students. A few design tweaks makes it even sturdier, and the loft was professionally installed by a manufacturer last year with Lions helping. Plexiglass sides make it fun to look out safely from the platform over the classroom. Above or below the loft, first-graders have an opportunity to choose a well-worn old favorite to curl up with or try a new reading adventure. After reading together in a group, each Lion takes time to tread lightly up the short flight of stairs to the loft, where two or three children receive individual attention. Lions sit patiently and help them read stories. Friendships are blossoming while books are read. Kaastra explains, “The most beautiful thing that has come out of the Lions visiting the grade-one classroom every week is the relationship that has grown between our Lions and my students. Some of my more affectionate students welcome them with hugs. When our Lions—and yes, we do consider each Lion who visits us as ‘ours!’—come to read, the benefits are many. They bring books that they love, exposing us to stories that we may not otherwise have noticed.” One of the best things, she adds, is the “personal stories” Lions share when reading together. Children feel free to share, too. “It’s all about making connections and building a relationship,” Kaastra points out. Running Fun for All Ages Attorney Jackie Gaillard remembers clearly the night her husband Richard, a 10-year member of the Cornwall Lions Club in New York, came home from a club meeting and excitedly told her that Lions planned something new. “Guess what? We’re going to sponsor a new Lions fundraiser, and you can help,” he said. There was a slight problem, however. No one really knew how to stage a race. “As an avid runner for many years, he just assumed I would know what to do,” Gaillard explains. She didn’t, but quickly threw herself into the job. “I started entering every local event to see what I liked and didn’t like about how they managed their runs. I began learning how to organize an event,” Gaillard reveals. The Cornwall Lions Annual Fall Harvest Race began in 2008. “That first year, we planned a 5K in less than two months and had about 150 participants. I got the word out to all my local running friends, placed the event on the local race calendars—and people showed up and loved it,” she says. “Every year I learned more, and the run has continued to grow.” Last year’s event had 860 runners and several hundred spectators. Proceeds from the race help Lions contribute $5,000 yearly to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. In addition to the run, there’s also a 7.5 mile scenic challenge run and a children’s one-third mile (528 yards) “fun run.” Participants are encouraged to bring canned goods to help stock the shelves at a community food bank. For their donation, they’re given a free raffle ticket for goods donated by local merchants.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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