By Kim Walter
QUICKSBURG - On Wednesday afternoon, every kindergartener at Ashby Lee Elementary School received a book, but not just any book; they got a story written specifically for them, depending on their likes, dislikes and love of coloring.
Eleventh and 12th-grade students of Patricia Diachenko, an English teacher at Stonewall Jackson High School, were told at the beginning of the school year that they would be paired with a child at the elementary school, and would need to write a story for them. The elementary and high school students met, and got to know each other so that each book would be personalized for the child.
Diachenko said the program started with her creative writing class a few years ago, and only involved one class from the elementary school.
"I liked it so much I wanted to expand it," she said Wednesday as the youth were paired up and books were presented and read.
"I mean, it makes sense to involve all my English students because I have to get them ready for the writing SOL," she said. "And before we deliver the books, I go through every single one with my students, and it kind of brings them back to the basics of writing, which is important."
"I figure everyone can write 25 sentences for a kid ... it's never failed," she added.
Karen Gonzalez, 17, read her story to 5-year-old Sarai Garcia-Luna, both from Mt. Jackson.
"She told me she liked winter, so I made it a kind of Christmas story," Gonzalez said. "Her favorite superhero is Batman, so basically the story is about a robber taking all the toys from Toys R Us, and [Sarai] and Batman work to find them and bring them back for all the kids. Plus, Sarai is really excited because her mom is about to have a baby, so I worked that into the story too."
Sarai smiled and nodded enthusiastically when asked if she liked the book. All of the stories were illustrated with black and white line drawings, so that the children could personalize them even more by coloring them in.
"I love reading, and I love coloring ... I like all of it," Sarai exclaimed.
Gonzalez said the work of putting the book together was well worth it to see her reading buddy's reaction.
"It feel exciting," she said. "It was really nice to see her emotions when we were reading the story together."
Susan Tusing, a kindergarten teacher whose students received books, was a fan of the book program as well.
"It's so important for the older kids to remember where they came from, when they had that appreciation and excitement for learning," she said. "But it's also important for the younger kids to see their community giving back, and know that older kids enjoy literacy as much as they do."
The kindergarten classes will spend the rest of the week reading each others' stories, and on Friday all the children will be able to take their books home. In all, over 100 kids will go home with their own, personalized, book.
Diachenko said this year, several bilingual books were written as well.
"With that, some of these kids can take the stories home and read them with their parents," she said.
Jesse Dinges, 17, wrote an "action story" for his reading buddy, Alex.
"It's about him being a lion, trying to find an evil ice cream wizard who changed his friend into an ice cream cone, and trying to get his friend changed back into a human," Dinges said, laughing as Alex tickled him. "I can definitely say that he liked it ... I tried to include everything he liked."
Dinges said that Alex's reaction was a good one as they read it together.
"It was fun, I really liked seeing his expressions as we went through it together," he said. "All the kids just seem really happy to have something of their own."
Diachenko smiled as she looked around the room filled with books, students and smiles.
"I mean, look at them," she said. "The demeanor of my kids when they're with the younger ones is such a delight to see, and these kids just treasure the books. It's just a win-win situation."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org