‘Stride Run’ grants promote reading in Washougal schools

Annual Washougal schools fundraiser set for May 18

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Children run from the starting line during the 2023 Student Stride for Education event in Washougal. (Contributed photo courtesy of Greg Brown)

For the past several months, Washougal School District (WSD) elementary school students have been “reading around” their libraries thanks to a new program that encourages them to discover new literary genres and write book reviews.

WSD district librarian teacher-on-special-assignment Hillary Chapman’s “Passport to Reading” program, which largely succeeded in its initial efforts to expose students to different types of writing, wouldn’t exist without the Washougal Schools Foundation (WSF) Student Stride for Education event.

“Luckily, the Washougal Schools Foundation is just amazing,” said Chapman, who received $1,000 from WSF in 2023 for the reading program. “We are very lucky to have the Washougal Schools Foundation supporting innovative ideas. (The support it provides) is a huge deal. The innovative grant money does so much across the district. They have been an institution for 20 years, and the Stride is a wonderful community event. I think it really brings our city together.”

The 21st annual Stride event will be held from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday, May 18, at Washougal High School. Proceeds from the yearly “fun run” provide opportunities for students via teacher grants from the WSF.

“Seeing these grants in action keeps our all-volunteer board motivated,” said WSF President Jeanie Moran. “We love to see what the teachers have done, and we’re all driven by the idea that one idea can make a huge impact in the ability for one student to grasp a subject. Washougal teachers are motivated to help their students learn, and we’re grateful for the ability to provide a path for these teachers to prove out the best ideas so that they may become an established method in the future.”

WSF provided a path for Chapman to bring her program, which she first discovered halfway around the world, to Washougal.

“I’d done Passport to Reading in an elementary school that I had worked at in the Philippines, and it was so popular,” she said. “I had run that program with transitional kindergarten to grade three, but I chose to do it with fourth and fifth grades here because I wanted to get them reading around their libraries. Fourth- and fifth-graders, this is when they tend to start a series and read the whole series, or get really hooked on graphic novels, and all they read is graphic novels. I’m not saying that’s bad, but I wanted to open their eyes to their library (and show them) that there are other kinds of books.”

Chapman used the majority of the funds — $900 — to purchase books for the Gause and Hathaway libraries.

“Both of those collections had holes,” she said. “They needed to be beefed up, or needed some newer titles in some areas. In Gause, I put some money into the history and geography section, but also included multicultural stories (to showcase people of) different races and different abilities. Hathaway needed some (more books about) arts and recreation, so I put some (money into) nonfiction, some fiction, and picture-book stories. And because Hathaway (hosts our) dual-language program, I focused on (getting more) Spanish and Russian books.”

She used the remainder of the money to create “passports,” which were printed by Minuteman Press in Camas and distributed to every fourth- and fifth-graders at the two schools at the start of the 2023-24 school year.

The students read one book per month, each from a different genre, from October 2023 to March 2024.

“The reason I got a passport was that I was thinking, ‘There’s seven continents in the world, so throughout the year, every month we could focus on a different genre,’” Chapman said. “The students wanted to finish the passport (by completing the books). The passport is kind of their memento.”

The students then wrote book reviews, which were entered into the district’s library software system. The reviews include a “hook” (why students should read this book), a summary, and a persuasive statement that leaves the reader “hanging and excited to read the book,” according to Chapman.

“That was the intention, my dream for this whole project, that the students’ words would influence other readers in the schools,” she said. “They’re really proud of their reviews and seeing their names (in the system) when one of their friends, maybe from a different class, says, ‘I read your review, I picked up that book, and I thought the same thing.’ Can I say that that’s happening? I don’t know. But that would be my dream.”

Some of the students “absolutely” benefitted from the program, according to Chapman, who added that she hopes that it can continue next year.

“As we started to finish, I would talk to some of our kiddos, and they were like, ‘You know what? I really like mysteries now. I always thought I’d only read graphic novels, but I really like trying to figure (the mysteries) out,’” she said. “Mystery ended up being one of our popular genres in both schools. Some of (the students) who are readers really loved (the program). The kids who really don’t enjoy reading really resisted. But some of my most resistant readers ended up finding at least one new kind of story that they liked.”

WSF launched the Student Stride for Education in 2004 “as a way to build awareness for the Washougal Schools Foundation by showing support for students with a family friendly event,” according to Moran. It has grown substantially since then.

“About 10 years ago, Discovery Dental became our title sponsor and created the ‘Beat the Docs’ challenge, (which) has become a crowd favorite,” Moran said. “More recently, the Ninja Warrior Course and the Mean Team Robot have added elements for everyone who attends. We’re so proud that the spirit of the event, and our community is too. Many sponsors seek us out and support year after year. We (also) have students who compete with their prior-year time in an effort to keep getting better. How cool is that?”

The event will feature youth runs for grades K-5 and a 5K run-walk for high school students, middle school students and adults, and a “ninja warrior” course.

“We have an amazing team of 11 directors that have worked hard to make the 20th Stride a celebration,” Moran said. “There have been social media posts focused on the history of the event and some of the critical volunteers, like Rene Carrol, Kyle and Stephanie Eikens, the Stinchfield families, and art teachers. This year, the T-shirt logo is a compilation of the past 20 ‘Stride Cats’ thanks to Taylor Stinchfield.”

The WSF expects that more than 800 runners and 100 volunteers will participate in the event.

“We have reached more sponsors than previous (years),” Moran said. “Our goal was to collect $24,000 in 2024, and our sponsors have surpassed our request.”

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