Birchview Elementary School finds special ways to promote early literacy

ISHPEMING — The month of March is annually recognized as National Reading Month. Birchview Elementary School in Ishpeming is planning some special events next month in honor of that, but the school also has a special focus on literacy all year long.

Students and parents at Birchview Elementary School in Ishpeming know Principal Matthew Byce has a hands–on, and sometimes out–of–the–box approach to his job. Currently, Principal Byce is working to promote early literacy, both in current students and future ones. He says that reading at an early age is crucial to the development of a student’s vocabulary, creativity, and much more.

“Reading is extremely important at a young age for a number of reasons,” explained Byce. “It helps build vocabulary that’s more significant and broader than students who aren’t read to as kids. It helps build creativity and imagination in students, and it’s helping them develop their brains in a way that you don’t get when you’re not reading at that young age.”

One unique way Principal Byce promotes early literacy is by weekly livestreams on Facebook, during which he personally reads to any students watching. This gives students, particularly those who may not have access to many books at home, an opportunity to be read to outside of the classroom.

“I will go on Facebook, and I’ll have a book that maybe a student asked me to read if it’s their favorite book or something like that,” Byce explained. “I’ll read it on Facebook Live so that everybody in the community can join in and comment. There have been lots of times where students come in the next day and they say, ‘You read me my bedtime story!’ So it’s kind of a cool way to connect with them in addition to being a cool way to break down those barriers to success for families that maybe don’t have a lot of books in the home.”

Principal Byce says that taking one evening out of his week is just one way he can have a positive impact on the students in his care, both academically and personally.

“I think it’s important to practice what you preach,” said Byce. “And it’s not just me; there have been some teachers who have jumped in on it too. But it’s a fun way for me to connect with the kids. Being in the office, sometimes I get bogged down by paperwork, and this is just another way for me to have a positive connection with students.”

Promoting early literacy doesn’t just stop with students already enrolled in Birchview Elementary. The school provides special programs for children too young to start school to be read to and to have access to books. These special events, combined with the school’s preschool program, help children to get a head start on reading and writing that will be a great benefit to them in the future.

“Every Monday morning we’ve got a group that comes in, the Hematite Rock and Read,” Byce said. “They come in from 8:30 to 10:00, and they have a little bit of socialization time where they can play, and then they get to read a story as a group. And each child gets to take home a book from there. We’ve also put a preschool into place this year, and that has been really helpful for those students to build their numeracy and literacy skills and to learn the letters and the letter sounds. It’s going to be a really good foundation for them as they move into school age.”

Preschool registration will be held on March 12 from 5:00-6:30 p.m. Kindergarten registration will be available by appointment from April 21-23. Special events for National Reading Month include Family Night from 5:00-6:30 p.m. on March 12, an author/illustrator visit at the school from 8:45-11:15 a.m. on March 16, and Middle School Reading Buddies from 1:15-1:45 p.m. on March 23.

These programs are a great opportunity for children to develop both the skills necessary and a love for reading at an early age.