A lot has happened over the last eight years but SUNBEAMS, a reading cooperative between Derry Village Elementary School first graders and West Running Brook Middle School eighth graders, is still going strong. SUNBEAMS Servicing Unique Needs Between Elementary And Middle was initiated by then-Derry Village Principal Leslie Saucier, and pairs middle schoolers with first graders in a special reading program.
That first year, in 2005, a contest was held to design a T-shirt, and the T-shirts are being reproduced to this day and proudly worn by the first graders, thanks to current Derry Village Principal Steven Miller. The program is simple in concept but huge in benefits. Eighth graders come over the hill and through the woods to Derry Village once a week for a reading session, each West Running Brook student reading with several first graders.
The first graders wait eagerly for the sessions and are excited to have the chance to interact with and read with the “big” kids, whom they admire. And the eighth graders anticipate the reading sessions with enthusiasm, finding they learn as much or more than what they teach while working with the “little” kids. They admit to liking the admiration the little kids express for the eighth graders.
Coming full circle, Saucier is now West Running Brook Middle School principal; Derry Village first grade teacher Linda Rosinski, who was involved with SUNBEAMS when it started, is still active in the program. And at least two of the eighth graders in SUNBEAMS were among Rosinski’s first graders in that first program in 2005. Caitlin Cyr and Caroline Masessa both said they are as delighted with and excited about the program today as they were when they were in first grade. Rosinski said the program was the brainchild of Mary Anne Taylor, who is still involved with it.
“I was the fortunate teacher who was invited to participate and they were the students who were fortunate enough to have been in my first grade class that year when the eighth graders came” she said. Caitlin said she remembers being thrilled that an eighth grader would be interested in doing this program with younger kids. Now, she said, she is just as thrilled to be one of the eighth graders in the program.
“I was surprised at how excited the kids were when we started,” Caitlin said. “I didn’t think these kids would be as excited as we were but they are. I really love helping kids. I also come on Tuesdays and Fridays and work as a helper in this class.” Caroline said she remembers thinking when she was in the first grade that it might be a fun thing to have big kids come in. When it happened she said she became excited to have someone reading to her.
“I think it is really interesting that we all look forward to this interaction,” Caroline said. “I am even more excited now, having had the benefit of being in the program when I was in first grade. I am happy to see just how happy and excited these first graders are to see us. I see this as a great learning opportunity for the little kids and for me. I love to read and I love encouraging these kids to love reading.”
Caitlin added that she had a hard time with reading but the program helped improve her reading ability. She shares that with the first graders to encourage them.
Caroline said she is impressed by how much the first graders have to deal with and how they handle it. “These kids teach us so much about how to work with and understand the younger kids,” she said. “It is amazing but they look up to us.” As the children selected “big” books to read with Caroline and Caitlin, Caitlin exclaimed, “I remember this book from when I was in the first grade!” Full circle indeed!