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‘Beyond the Game’ program aids young readers

WHS athletes read to Western Primary students

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Leader & Reader— Senior tennis player Dylan Collins reads to Western Primary School's students as part of the "Beyond the Game" program, where Western High School student-athletes encourage youth reading. 

RUSSIAVILLE – Student athletes at Western are reminding primary school students that in order to achieve on the field and on the court, skills must be sharpened in the classroom as well.

That’s the point of Western High School’s “Beyond the Game” program, where high school student athletes read to Western Primary School’s students and encourage reading and staying on top of their mental game. The program was a joint effort between WHS Athletic Director Aaron Hyman and WPS Reading Specialist Jessica Hollingsworth, and in its first year, Hollingsworth said it’s been a resounding success.

“The benefit of having campuses in close proximity is that our younger students get to connect with upperclassmen and build relationships through reading,” Hollingsworth said. “Listening to reading encourages our students to find joy in reading and persevere as they learn the foundational skills necessary to become readers themselves. Our teachers love having former students back in the building as well.”

Having the older students lead by example shows the primary students reading is a cool and useful tool they’ll use throughout their education, Hollingsworth said.

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Reader & Leader— Junior soccer player Maisy Harlow reads to Western Primary School's students as part of the "Beyond the Game" program, where Western High School student-athletes encourage youth reading. 

The students have really responded, she said, and it makes for a neat day at school for them when an older student comes to visit.

“The primary students love it. I think that being able to connect with an older student that’s also at Western has made them very excited to have them as a guest reader. Teachers have said that they’re very engaged. The student athletes that are reading are involving the students a lot and having conversations with them, and the books that we’ve been reading are also engaging so that the kids can kind of interact with the student and the book at the same time,” she said.

It’s a completely voluntary program, Hyman said, and the student athletes have jumped at the opportunity to share their love of learning with a younger generation.

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There have been representatives from boys’ and girls’ soccer, volleyball, football, tennis, and cross country who have volunteered, he said. The focus is on the fall sports for now, he said, but the program will include winter athletes in the winter and spring athletes in the spring, and so on.

“It’s actually kind of fun. Jessica brings over a handful of books to me, and then I meet with the student athletes, and they come over and they kind of thumb through the books. And it’s neat because they kind of think back and they recall a book that they remember having read to them in primary school. So the student athletes are getting to pick which books to take over and read to the classes, and it’s neat because they’re reflecting on when those books were read to them,” Hyman said.

For junior volleyball player Linsay Guge, she’s enjoyed being a leader and spreading her love of reading with future WHS student athletes.

The students really get into the experience, she said, and it brightens up her day to be able to share it with them.

“I think it was a really cool experience to be able to go over there and be a leader to those little kids, and show them that athletes love to read too and can put themselves out there,” Guge said. “They thought it was really cool. They were just asking questions about high school and being an athlete and stuff.”

Guge has been an avid reader her whole life, she said, and she expressed that student-athletes can give themselves to sports in school with plenty of leftover time to read academically or just for fun. In an increasingly electronic world, students need to be encouraged to read and provided with examples of older kids still reading, and this program is a great vehicle for that, Hollingsworth said.

The books are mostly short stories and picture books, such as “The Pigeon Wants a Puppy!”, so the kids can easily follow along and stay interested in the material, she said. Having cool older students as presenters only makes the day more fun.

Overall, the program has been a big hit, both for the student athletes and younger students, Hyman said, and this is the beginning of a tradition of encouraging kids that reading is a cool and important hobby for years to come.

“As an athletic department, we feel that the ‘Beyond the Game’ program is providing our student athletes with the opportunity to develop leadership skills and character development through service to others,” Hyman said.