SRAA principal finds innovative way to deliver bedtime stories

WEST COLUMBIA, SC -- There’s nothing quite like a bedtime story, and the principal at Saluda River Academy for the Arts is making sure his students and families get one.


Every Sunday night, Principal Jim LeBlanc appears in video reading a specially selected book that students can access on their own in a number of ways --  through the school’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube accounts, as well as on ClassDojo. 


LeBlanc started his Sunday night readings in August, the night before the first Monday of the new school year. He hasn’t missed one since.


“Literacy is our major focus this year at Saluda River Academy for the Arts,” said LeBlanc, “and this has been a great way to engage our families and the community to promote the importance and a love for reading.”


LeBlanc sat down recently to talk about his popular Sunday night reads, as well as other literacy initiatives at the Lexington Two arts magnet school.

How did you come up with the idea for the weekly readings?

LeBlanc: “In establishing a literacy-rich culture for our school,  I stumbled upon a news clip of Dr. Belinda George, the principal at Homer Drive Elementary in Beaumont, Texas.  It shared how she reads stories to her students, given that the school serves a large population of students who she could not know for sure read at home.  This got me thinking about our school, and how this would be a tangible way to share my love for reading with our families, as well as ensure that each of our students has an opportunity to be read to every Sunday evening. This also provides an example for parents to follow when reading with their students at home.”


How do you decide what books to read?

LeBlanc: “Deciding which book to read is a critical component of this process.  Just as classroom teachers have to choose books that will relate to their students or be of interest, I work with my media specialist, Jess Land, to choose a book that is going to engage our students and their families.  For example, during Hispanic Heritage Month, we chose several books that highlighted important people or were written by Hispanic authors. At the start of school, we read books geared toward welcoming our students, inviting them to a safe community where they belong, and building excitement for a new school year.  For Veterans Day, we read a book about a dog who served our country in the military. Of course, recommendations are beginning to come in from staff and students, the more that this initiative catches on.”


What kind of response are you getting to these Sunday night reads?

LeBlanc: “We have received an overwhelmingly positive response from our students, families, teachers, and the community.  Students come to school every Monday sharing about their families reading the story and what they liked or what they learned from watching the read-aloud the night before.  Students laugh about the silly voices or the ridiculous singing that may take place while reading. It is great to see students getting off the bus or out of the car line excited about a book that was read to them!  Parents have shared that they enjoy the stories as much as the students, and some families gather all around a device to watch each Sunday.”  


Any plans to continue this program next year?

LeBlanc: “We will definitely continue this moving forward and will continue to look for ways to enhance the process.  We have had a couple of guest readers in the form of Ms. Land and my assistant principal, Laura Clark. I would like to eventually incorporate a special student reader who will be my special guest.  This will hopefully help encourage students in their own reading and be a support for our teachers as they work so hard to teach students to read. I've even considered filming several stories at my house with my own children.”


You talk about a reading culture at Saluda River.  What are some of the other things you're doing?

LeBlanc: “We have brought in Kate Bishop, a national reading guru, to work with all of our faculty in reading workshop and reading strategies.  We have always had a Book Parade that is famous throughout the school community. This year, our team is planning a full month for literacy that will culminate in a full day literacy festival that will be led by our students and incorporate guests from the community.  We have planned several literacy nights for our families. Our superintendent, Dr. Bill James, and our School Board set aside $10,000 for each school's media center collection, and Ms. Land has been charged with analyzing our collection, getting input, and putting together an order to bolster our entire collection.  Our focus has been on creating individualized programs for each student through the grade-level achievement teams process and through our multi-tiered system of supports. Finally, we have church partners serving as reading buddies for our second grade students this year, and we are in the planning phase of having the Cayce-West Columbia Rotary Club serve as reading buddies for our third grade students. So many things to be excited about!


Anything else?

LeBlanc: Visit us on Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube to view our book reads.