by Lynn Meredith
Kaneland—Enter the Reading Cafe at Blackberry Creek Elementary School on the second floor overlooking the library, and you won’t see a typical classroom, or library for that matter. You’ll see a place where kids can kick back and get excited about reading.
Lime green shag rugs cover the floor, flanked by bright yellow cabinets and turquoise and lime green curtains. Paper lanterns hang from the ceiling, and artwork adorns the walls, along with posters of the Jonas Brothers and Tony Hawk. Bean bag chairs, a futon, pillows, stuffed animals, and, yes, books, contribute to the dorm-like atmosphere. And then there’s the bright orange leather couch.
“That orange couch was the piece de resistance,” Literacy Specialist Linda Zulkowski said.
Zulkowski, along with fellow teacher Terri Konen, brought the idea to the school after attending an inspiring professional development workshop.
The purpose of the reading cafe is to motivate kids to read inside and outside of school. By having an energizing and fun place to come for reading activities, kids associate reading with fun.
“The ultimate goal is to promote reading outside of school, to choose to do it out. We hope they will be engaging more here in school and getting hooked on books,” Zulkowski said.
The cafe opened in October. Each teacher has a designated time if they choose to use the room. They can also sign up for open times. They use the room to read aloud to the students, to give students independent reading time, or even to reward the kids.
“They love this room. It’s being used often by teachers as a reward. The reward is getting to read,” Zulkowski said. “ It’s so different. You don’t expect to see something like this in a school.”
After attending a workshop presentation by Steven Layne, a professor at Judson Univeristy who has written a book on motivating students to read, Konen and Zulkowski first thought of it as a professional development goal. It soon became a whole building and school improvement goal. They went to the PTO to see if it could help, perhaps by donating a couch or small items. Instead, the PTO gave them $2,000 to fund the entire room.
After a shopping trip to IKEA for the bright furnishings and cool outfitting, the plan was to keep the room a secret from the kids and give hints that something was coming.
“We had a huge kick-off,” said PTO President Kathy Webster. “We blacked out the windows of the room and had a countdown from 20 to zero of what is in the mystery room. We really pumped it.”
The unveiling was a ribbon-cutting, whole-school assembly. Music teacher Brandon Fox even wrote a song about it. Webster then had the idea to involve the community by having a month of community leaders come in to read to the students and talk about how they use reading on their jobs.
The month of February began with a Ronald McDonald assembly. Elburn Mayor Dave Anderson, Ben Conley of Conley Funeral Home, Dr. Wayne Larsen, a veterinarian from Kaneville, Pat Hill, owner of Hill’s Country Store, Pastor Lou Quetel from Geneva, Dwayne Nelson from the Town and Country Library and Bryan Janito all participated.
“It was a big deal for us,” Zulkowski said. “We had fun shopping for it, we had fun watching the kids when they first saw it, and we have fun seeing the kids actually reading.”