Cyclists promote literacy, ride books into Collinsville school

News-DemocratMay 9, 2013 

Fourth grade students at Kreitner Elementary School in Collinsville cheered as more than 35 cyclists rode past them Thursday afternoon. Some of the cyclists gave high fives to the children as they passed.

The cyclists all volunteered to participate in the Ride For Reading event. Ride For Reading is a national organization with a mission to promote literacy and healthy living by distributing books via bicycle to children from low-income neighborhoods.

Shannon McWhorter, of Edwardsville, organized the first Ride For Reading event in Illinois with two of her friends Gretchen Fricke and Mieke Durbin, both of Edwardsville. McWhorter's cousin Matthew Portell started the non-profit organization in 2008 based in Nashville.

McWhorter said Kreitner was selected based on its high number of low-income students. More than 94 percent of the students are low-income, according to the 2012 Illinois School Report Card.

"We want all kids to have books in their homes," McWhorter said.

Students and staff gathered in the gymnasium as the Ride For Reading brought 1,300 gently-used books to donate to the school. McWhorter and the other cyclists were thanked with thunderous applause.

The 37 cyclists rode four miles to the school from the Metro East Parks and Recreation Building on United Drive in Collinsville carrying the donated books in backpacks, wagons and other bags hanging from their bicycles.

Each of the 425 pre-kindergarten through fourth grade students at Kreitner Elementary had the opportunity to select a book to take home. Pettit said the remainder of the books will be used by classroom teachers and included in the school's library.

Before the students picked out their books, McWhorter briefly talked to them about bike safety and the need to always wear a helmet. In addition, she emphasized the importance of reading.

"If you can read then you can learn anything in the world," McWhorter told the students.

She then had the students promise to read their book twice a day and pass it onto someone else when they are done with it.

Each student had a different reason for selecting the book they did.

First-grader Dominic Flinn, 7, picked a Magic Tree House book. "It's a chapter book, and I like chapter books," he said.

Classmate Lucas Rogers, 7, said he chose a Captain Underpants book, because "it's funny."

First-grader Jaylene Ortiz, 7, selected "Arthur's New Baby" book. "I chose it, because I have a baby sister, and I don't know how to take care of her."

Cyclist Suzie Schaaf of Roxana said she enjoyed participating in Ride For Reading. "It's good to see kids excited about reading books," she said.

Cyclist Don Simpson, of Dorsey, said he liked seeing the children eager to read actual books. "It's good for kids to actually touch words with all the technology we have now," he said.

Principal Todd Pettit said Ride For Riding taught the students about volunteerism and helping others as well as the importance of reading.

Literacy is an area of emphasis for the school, according to Pettit, given the high population of Hispanic students. More than 70 percent of the students at Kreitner are Hispanic, according to the school report card.

McWhorter said she plans to help spread Ride For Reading to other communities in Illinois and hold two events in Madison County next school year -- one in the fall and one in the spring.

In all, McWhorter said 2,600 donated books were collected, which surpassed their goal of 800 books. "The number of books was just incredible," she said. Five hundred books were donated by Better World Books through a partnership with Ride For Reading.

This week, 20 Ride For Reading events are being held across the country.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 618-239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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