Teaming up to read


 By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff


PITTSFIELD - What's a good song to go along with a laptop-based lesson on fish in the Amazon? One seventh-grader at St. Mark School chose rock band AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long."


The seventh-grader presented the lesson yesterday to his first-grade pupil as part of St. Mark's new Reading Buddies program. The first-grader watching the lesson bobbed his head and asked the older boy questions about the piranhas and needlefish floating across the screen to the rock beat.


Yesterday's presentations were the culmination of Reading Buddies, which teamed 24 seventh-graders with 23 first-graders.


The new program is the result of this year's consolidation of Pittsfield Catholic Schools, which closed Sacred Heart Elementary and placed kindergarten through Grade 7 under one roof at St. Mark.


"It's a win-win situation on this one," said Matt Collins, a seventh-grade social studies teacher.


The program incorporates the recently acquired seventh-grade Apple iBook G4 laptops issued through the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative.


"(Seventh-graders) learn what it takes to teach someone. They learn project management," said Collins. "You're a different person in that role as a teacher," he said.


Because there are three times as many pupils in Grade 7 than in Grade 1, the program runs in three, four-week sessions; every four weeks, the first-graders will get a new seventh-grade reading buddy.


"It's been wonderful," said first-grade teacher Mary Reilly, " Reading is the big thing for first-graders. There's not enough time in the day to listen to everybody read. These (gesturing to the seventh-graders) are the ears."


She said in just the four weeks, she has seen a great improvement in the reading skills of her pupils.


When Reilly first met with the Grade 7 pupils she discussed reading strategies and highlighted ways to show them to the younger children.


The seventh-graders then designed activities to do with their buddies based on what the younger kids were studying - the ocean and the rainforest.


Some of the activities included reading aloud to one another, creating coloring books using underwater-themed characters from "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Finding Nemo," and in the end students created multimedia presentations using the laptops.


Seventh-grader Nolan McCauley used software such as iPhoto, iTunes and PowerPoint to select photos and music and write text for his slides on sea life. All of it was edited into a short video using a program called QuickTime.


Because his designated buddy was absent, McCauley and classmate Alfred "A.J." Enchill took turns sharing their presentations with an ecstatic first-grade buddy, Alexander Roman.


Images of dolphins and fish flashed across the screen in time to the rap and hip-hop music of Ludacris and Missy Elliott.


"Why are they like that," asked Roman, pointing to a group of fish. "Because they swim in schools," said McCauley.


"I want to see that again," said Roman reaching for the buttons. "It's fun," he said.


While others continued fiddling on the laptops, first-grader Hayley Duffy sat coloring quietly while her older buddy Marisse Merwin whispered words of encouragement, "You're doing a great job, Haley."


"For the younger ones, just working with an older child - seeing them in the hall, on the bus - it's a nice community aspect that they know someone," said Reilly.