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March 16, 2006
MELROSE — Isabelle Hervey started going to the Melrose Reading Station before she was born.
Now she’s 3 1/2, and she knows all her letters.
“Mommy, puzzle with me,” she said Monday morning as she tapped on a box.
Sharon Hervey helped her daughter dump the puzzle pieces on the floor. Each piece had a train boxcar with a letter of the alphabet. Hervy put the A at the front and the Z at the end, and Isabelle went to work.
“Where’s the B?” she said.
Hervey told her she’d have to find it. Isabelle picked up a piece with a picture of an ice cream cone.
“That’s I,” she said, and quickly discarded it. She picked through the pieces until she found the B. She made it all the way to F before she got bored.
Hervey started taking her son, Ben, to the station when it opened in 1999, and she kept taking him, even after she became pregnant with Isabelle.
Melrose Elementary School founded the station when kindergarten teachers noticed that some of their new students didn’t even know how to hold a book, reading center coordinator Marie Felgentrager said.
For the first time, the center is now open to all Douglas County residents, not just those in the Melrose area.
The station is designed to help with literacy for children from the time they are babies until they enter school. It has a lending library, games and toys, as well as a resource library for parents. The reading station is in a classroom across from the kindergarten room.
Children get a free book the first time they come, and they can earn more books by reading. All children must be accompanied by an adult.
Funding the station, which is the only one of its kind in the state, has been challenging, Felgentrager said. It was paid for by grants until last year. Now the station is holding fundraisers and creating partnerships with businesses and social service organizations to offer its free services.
This year’s budget is $8,000, Felgentrager said, but the station is hoping to be open more and purchase additional books in the future.
Over the last five years, the station has proved that exposing children to books and educational games is helping those children get ready for school. The reading station children have scored consistently higher on phonetic survey assessments in first, second and third grade.
Hervey believes the reading station helped Ben get ready for kindergarten. He needed speech therapy from the time he was 4 until he was in first grade, and now he is in the top reading group in his class.
Wendie Sprague has been taking her three children to the center
for about a month.
Her son, Mickey, turned 5 in October. He was too young for kindergarten but old enough to be bored at home.
While Mickey plays matching card games or matches shapes on the computer, his little sisters Xeandra and Ekaterina can be noisy and crawl on the floor.
“It’s very kid-friendly,” Sprague said. “I guess, to be honest, it’s more mother-friendly than kid-friendly.”
Four of Michelle Townsend’s five sons have come to the reading station.
“They love coming. They love the toys,” she said. “They can come and play with an educational toy, and they don’t know that they’re learning.”
Townsend enjoys meeting other mothers of young children and sharing parenting ideas.
“You can become friends here when your kids are playing,” she said.
Deidre Stenbeck appreciates the concentrated time with her sons Roman and Joey, who are 4 and 2.
“You’re away from the phone. You’re away from distractions,” she said. “I can focus on the kids. It’s also sibling-friendly.”
She said it’s hard to find activities that children of different ages can participate in, but the station has materials appropriate for all young children.
Virginia Le said the station is especially good for her middle daughter, Grace. Her oldest child is in kindergarten, and her youngest is only 8 months old. At the station, Grace, who is almost 3, can play with children her own age. It also gives her the feeling she’s going to school like her big sister, Crystal.
Le takes her children to the public library, but it’s difficult when they get noisy, and the station is more intimate, she said. It’s also closer to home.
She appreciates the small environment and the attention Felgentrager gives the children.
“She knows our names and our children’s names, so it’s different from the public library,” Le said.
Before Felgentrager took over as coordinator, she took her own children to the station.
She said parents are often ostracized in society, particularly if they have wiggly children, but the station is a place parents and children can be comfortable.
Each week has a theme. Monday the children were coloring shamrocks with Bingo markers. Earlier in the month they celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday, and guest storytellers often come.
“We try to make it as exciting as possible,” Felgentrager
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