HEBRON | Students arrived early Friday to Hebron Elementary School to listen to stories, play in the dirt and eat dirt pudding loaded with gummy worms.
The occasion was a new 7:30 a.m. book club for children from kindergarten through fifth grade.
First-grade teacher Brenda Sterk and fellow teachers started the club after attending a literacy conference in October at Valparaiso University. The workshop was hosted by author and educator Steven Layne, who suggested starting a book club to engage students in reading.
After Principal Jim Martin approved the idea, the teachers hosted the first club for 90 students in January. First-grade teacher Susan Witt dressed in Egyptian garb and read Graeme Base's "Jewel Fish of Karnak," about a jackal and an ibis sent to retrieve a "jewel fish" for the Cat Pharoah.
At the end of the program, Sterk asked the kids to give a "thumbs up" if they liked the book club.
"Everyone had their thumbs up and were cheering," Sterk said.
Jeri Gearhart, the school's physical education teacher, brought her baby goats to the club's February program for a reading of "Rebecca and the Great Goat Getaway" by Christopher Furfur. Gearhart brought goat cheese and goat's milk fudge for 120 children to sample during the club's snack break.
Word about the successful club has spread, and the number of children registered for the program has nearly doubled in just two months. At Friday's meeting, about 160 children listened to a reading of "Tops and Bottoms," Janet Stevens' entertaining story of a lazy bear and an energetic hare who plant a garden. Teachers dressed in gardening aprons and helped the children plant seeds.
"They're excited," Sterk said of the children. "They're always asking me when the next book club is. They're excited to see what's coming up."
Besides igniting children's passion for reading, Sterk said she and fellow teachers hope to involve the community, including the public library and local businesses.
"We want local businesspeople and retired teachers come in and be presenters," Sterk said. "We want kids to realize that not just teachers read but other people read, too."
Sterk said DeMotte State Bank has donated to the program, and she hopes other businesses will follow so the club can award children with a book bag and other mementos at the end of the school year.
Sterk is encouraged that the club's main purpose seems to have taken root.
"Our librarian has noticed that the books the presenters are presenting are just flying out of the library right now," Sterk said.