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The book on St. Patrick Lew-Port sixth-graders learn through community service

Karrigan Rotella may only be 6, but she already knew quite a bit about St. Patrick's Day heading into last weekend.

Thanks to Joy Khatib's sixth-grade English pupils, she learned a whole lot more.

The Lewiston-Porter Middle School pupils read books about St. Patrick's Day to some 25 youngsters in Youngstown Free Library on March 11 and helped them make Irish shamrock necklaces and decorate cookies.

It was part of a monthly community service program the sixth-graders have been running since September, and it certainly was not wasted on Karrigan. She now knows about the pot of gold some leprechaun stashed at the end of the rainbow, which she now intends to find.

"I don't know [where]," she said, "but I'll find out. I'm going to buy stuff with [the gold] for my sisters and me. I have two baby sisters."

She added that she also liked making a necklace, which she described as a "four-leaf clover with a face and [leprechaun] hat."

Khatib said her pupils have been conducting reading hours in the library once a month -- every second or third Saturday since September. They've been helped with a $1,000 grant from the Orleans-Niagara Teacher Resource and Computer Training Center in Cambria. The money pays for materials and books.

"I have about 100 English students, and they take turns -- about 10 at a time, 10 different kids each month -- running the reading hour," Khatib said.

About 20 to 30 youngsters attend the program each month to learn more about reading and other topics from older children.

This month's theme was St. Patrick's Day.

"Each time we do this we have a theme," Khatib said.

Nichole Jeffords, a sixth-grader, read the first book, "It's St. Patrick's Day," which was followed up by another pupil, Caitlin Wright, who read, "St. Patrick's Day in the Morning." Caitlin was interrupted by some critical commentary from 1-year-old Michael Riordan, who had a lot to say, although his monosyllabic pronouncements were difficult to understand.

The children generally liked the stories, but the vast majority said they really liked decorating the cookies with green frosting, colored sprinkles and marshmallows.

"I liked the frosting and the cookies because they're yummy," said Katie Beatty, 7.

Many of the youngsters accidentally decorated their faces and fingers with the green frosting.

Khatib, who has her pupils do other community service projects -- such as working in an area soup kitchen and visiting the elderly at Fairchild Manor Nursing Home -- said the program is designed to get young children interested in reading and help them discover they can have a nice time at the library.

Most importantly, "It helps my students gain confidence by talking in front of others, reading in front of others and being in charge of a program for younger kids," she said. "It helps them practice their reading, and it gives me a better relationship with them by working together with them on a Saturday morning instead of in a structured, environment.

"I get to know them better, and they sort of take on a peer role with me because they are the mentors here. They do the teaching. It's a good experience for them."

Lisa Hastings, the mother of Alison Hastings, another pupil who helps with the program, said, "I like it because it gives my daughter an opportunity to volunteer, to help young kids see what fun it its to come to the library and also to understand how satisfying it can be to help the community.

"It helps her personally because she gets to read to the younger kids, which helps strengthen her reading skills and makes her a strong, confident reader."

Hastings said it also teaches children who tend to be self-centered that "the world doesn't revolve around me."

"It teaches them things aren't about you," she said. "It's about the community, our older people, needy people, the homeless, the hungry -- an important lesson everyone should learn, but a lesson many people never do."

Pupil Paula Streb agreed.

"I think the program is a good one because it gives us older kids a chance to interact with little kids and be role models for them," Paula said. "It teaches us to be responsible. I also think it's good for the younger kids to be with older kids and have some fun with them."

"I like it," sixth-grader Tyler Bradigan said, "because Mrs. Khatib is so full of energy and she's always exciting, and she has a way of making kids enjoy what we do here."

Tyler said she could have slept in if it wasn't for Khatib, but she joked that she didn't believe it would hurt her health losing a little sleep.

"These cookies could," she quipped.

Brittney Kiely said she loves watching the faces of the younger children light up when she and her classmates read to them.

"They really look up to us," Brittney said, "because we seem so much older than they are."

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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