Students, families take a deeper dive into reading with Prime Time

When families take time to read together, it encourages them to think, to ask, to inquire.

Thanks to Humanities Washington and Sno-Isle Libraries, the Prime Time Family Reading Time program gathered 60 families at three Sno-Isle Libraries community libraries this fall to improve their reading skills and habits. Most of the parents, caregivers, older siblings and children already spent time reading together. Here’s how Prime Time helped them become lifelong learners over six weeks.

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Sno-Isle Libraries teamed again this year with Humanities Washington to bring the Prime Time Family Reading Time storytelling program to Granite Falls, Oak Harbor and Mountlake Terrace.

Prime Time program in Granite Falls
Parents, caregivers and children gather in Granite Falls Library for Prime Time, a six-week program that encourages families to read together (photo gallery). Reading to the group are Kate Wiens and Stacey Simmons, teachers at Mountain Way Elementary School in Granite Falls.

“It wasn’t intentional that the three libraries all have Prime Time programs this fall,” said Mountlake Terrace Librarian Susan Kirdahy. “We’re just lucky Humanities Washington chose to support three Sno-Isle Libraries community libraries at the same time.”

The partnership between Sno-Isle Libraries and Humanities Washington dates to 2011 when the organizations started talking about their shared missions to promote reading skills, Mountlake Terrace Library Manager Kristin Piepho said. Humanities Washington wanted to spread Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ Prime Time Family Reading Time program around Washington.

“We worked together on a program to help provide books to family child-care providers,” Piepho said. “Based on that partnership, Humanities Washington sought us out early in 2012 as a potential site to offer the Prime Time Family Reading program in Washington.”

Sno-Isle Libraries and Humanities Washington piloted Prime Time at the Lynnwood Library based on customer demographics, library space and staff interest to prove the promise of Prime Time, Piepho explained. She was Lynnwood Library children’s librarian then and coordinated the Sno-Isle Libraries effort with Leslie Moore, current district manager and former Children’s and Outreach Services manager, and Penni Vogel, the retired director of Information, Programming and Reader Services.

“Piloting the program in partnership with Sno-Isle Libraries laid the groundwork for Humanities Washington to establish Prime Time in libraries throughout Washington,” said George Abeyta, Prime Time program manager with Humanities Washington.

Prime Time lets families connect with each other through the exploration of literature and big ideas, away from school pressures and home distractions, he said. It helps bond families around the act of reading and discussing texts and creates lifelong learners.

“Prime Time models and teaches techniques for learning how to learn,” Abeyta said.

After Humanities Washington took Prime Time statewide, the Monroe and Mukilteo libraries were next to participate, and Marysville offered Prime Time in 2014. By the end of 2019, Sno-Isle Libraries will have held 23 Prime Time programs serving more than 320 families and 1,080 individuals, Abeyta said.

Humanities Washington selects 20-25 local libraries for Prime Time each year, he said. Each library works with a local elementary school to select students, most ages 7-10, who teachers believe could benefit from reading more with their families. Some preschool siblings attend the program, too. The library and school coordinate Prime Time activities and schedule events. Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation and Friends of the Library groups provide supplemental funding for meals.

Prime Time also connects families with their Sno-Isle Libraries community library and its resources, often for the first time. Many were surprised by the broad range of services their library offers.

Each six-week Prime Time series serves 15 to 25 families who meet in the library for 90 minutes once a week, Abeyta explained. Each session starts with dinner before caregivers and children gather in a storytelling circle. After the storyteller finishes, the “scholar” explains philosophical themes, then asks children and caregivers thoughtful questions about the story and its message.

Did they agree with the theme in the story? Did they see other themes? What message did it convey? What strengths or weaknesses did they see in a character?

While the storytelling format was a little different at each library, kids and caregivers clearly put a lot of thought into their answers.

Granite Falls

Torres family, Prime Time reading program
The Torres family of Granite Falls, Alejandro, Javier, Danielle and Andres, react as Katelyn Wiens and Stacey Simmons read a story aloud during Prime Time at the Granite Falls Library.

Granite Falls Library had its first round with Prime Time in 2019. Librarian Jannah Minnix worked with Mountain Way Elementary School teachers Katelyn Wiens and Stacey Simmons to select 16 students and their families.

Jamie Hoeppner of Granite Falls came to Prime Time with her son, Jaydan, 6, and daughter Rosie, 3. Prime Time exceeded Hoeppner’s expectations. One night a week, Prime Time “takes off the pressure as a mom” and helps her and her kids connect to reading.

“It’s been super organized,” Hoeppner said. “We’ve totally done it. We’re reading the books. We read a ton more now.”

After four weeks of Prime Time, she said Jaydan’s reading comprehension has improved and Rosie can understand and explain more concepts. They’re using the library more often. Prime Time has even given Hoeppner more confidence.

“I can explain (abstract) concepts and the kids will understand,” she said.

Joining Hoeppner at Prime Time was her friend Danielle Torres, who came with her husband, Javier Torres, and their sons Alejandro, 8, and Andres, 5. Andres and Jaydan Hoeppner are friends in Katelyn Wiens’ kindergarten class.

Danielle Torres said she wasn’t sure what to expect beyond “dinner and storytime.” Her boys check out lots of books from the school library and the family reads together, but “this is new material,” she said.

“I like that there’s a theme with each book,” Torres said. “It gives us a new way to talk about things, like I didn’t think (Maurice Sendak’s) ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is about courage.”

Torres called the dinner gathering “a cool social bonus” and she likes spending more time with Hoeppner. Torres also appreciated learning about all the other services Sno-Isle Libraries offers.

“We use more library resources now,” she said.

Oak Harbor

Oak Harbor Prime Time program
Luke, Landen and Rachelle Lankhorst came to Prime Time at Oak Harbor Library on Luke’s insistence. Rachelle Lankhorst is now a big believer in Prime Time since the family reads together much more as a result.

Oak Harbor Library held three Prime Time programs in 2017 and 2018, thanks to a $29,350 grant from the George and Sheila Moy Saul Family Fund of the Whidbey Community Foundation.

“(Former Oak Harbor Library Manager) Mary Campbell and I had been aware of the Humanities Washington Prime Time program for some time, but Prime Time funding was not usually available for Island County,” Oak Harbor Library Manager Jane Lopez-Santillana said. “We approached Humanities Washington with a proposal for privately funding three Prime Time series and worked with their staff to create viable budget plans using the funds donated by George Saul and his family.”

Students from Oak Harbor, Crescent Harbor and Olympic View elementary schools have participated in Prime Time.

This year, Humanities Washington funded Prime Time in Oak Harbor and leftover funds from the Saul Family Fund paid for catering. Lopez-Santillana worked with Oak Harbor School District Elementary English Language Specialist Marisa Croucher and staff at Crescent Harbor Elementary School to bring in 19 families, some of whom are new to English. The storytellers are retired Sno-Isle Libraries Librarian Mechelle Van Houdt and local business owner Claudia Sámano-Losada.

Oak Harbor parent Rachelle Lankhorst came at the insistence of her third-grade son, Luke. She said he came home with a letter from school explaining Prime Time, and he was already an enthusiastic reader.

“He asked, ‘Can we do it? Can we do it?’ ” Lankhorst said. She agreed and she’s glad they did.

“It’s a great blessing to have one ‘mommy night’ off,” Lankhorst said.

She brought her daughter, Brooke, 14, and sons Landen, 11, Luke, 8, and Lawson, 5. After dinner, Lankhorst stayed for Prime Time with Landen and Luke while Brooke and Lawson went to the library.

Lankhorst sees the benefits of Prime Time in her house. She said Landen got over “all the little kids” around him in the library and now he helps his brothers read. It’s made her a big fan of Prime Time.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Lankhorst said. “We get to spend time as a family. I definitely recommend it to anyone.”

Croucher likes the thought that goes into group discussions.

“I am continually amazed with the conversations that evolve during the sessions and the messages and themes students are able to pull out from the story,” she said.

Van Houdt, the storyteller, echoes Croucher’s sentiment.

“I need it (Prime Time). It feeds my soul,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see the progress with the kids. And the parents are really involved.”

Van Houdt and Samano-Losada got caregivers to share their personal stories after reading “Fanny’s Dream.” Some had dreams fulfilled. Some had dreams delayed. And those who had dreams replaced with “something better” hugged their kids.

Lankhorst said her family uses and appreciates more of Sno-Isle Libraries services, just like Hoeppner and Torres do in Granite Falls. Oak Harbor Library staff certainly know Prime Time participants use more library services.

“Two large families of new-to-English speakers were delighted to encounter library staff who could speak their language, introduce them to library information, help them obtain library cards for each member of their families and share all of the things that are possible when you have a library card,” Lopez-Santillana said. “Every single member of each family left the library beaming. It was absolutely a life-changing moment for them to have access and feel invited and included in our community.”

Mountlake Terrace

Mountlake Terrace Prime Time program
Children and caregivers listen intently as Prime Time “scholar” Alanna Yang (second from left) and past Prime Time participant Ruth Ashever (opposite, right) discuss a theme from “Where the Wild Things Are” during a Prime Time program at Mountlake Terrace Library.

Mountlake Terrace held its third Prime Time series this year. Librarian Susan Kirdahy coordinated the 25 Prime Time students with Gloria Sepulveda, family engagement liaison with the Edmonds School District. Students came from Mountlake Terrace and Chase Lake elementary schools. Between 40 and 50 people attended each session with storyteller Sue Rappleyea and scholar Alanna Yang.

“This is the largest group we’ve ever served,” Kirdahy said. “We have three teen volunteers helping out with the program.”

Ashley Tiedeman of Lynnwood brought her two boys and two girls, ages 6, 5, 4 and 2.

“They are excited!” she said as the brothers chased each other. As for Prime Time, “I like that the community is coming together to share a meal. That’s important to all of our cultures — and share a story. … And it’s a big thing to have so many people of color here.”

Rappleyea, a retired Edmonds School District teacher, was pleasantly surprised by the large turnout of Spanish speakers.

“Many of the students we’re working with this year speak mostly Spanish at home,” Kirdahy said. “The Edmonds School District is providing an interpreter (and translation equipment). Ricardo Avila, a bilingual Sno-Isle Libraries staff member from Lynnwood, is helping us connect those ESL families to Sno-Isle Libraries services.”

As Rappleyea and Yang read stories and led the group discussion in English, real-time translation kept Spanish speakers focused and involved, thanks to wireless radio receivers and earpieces.

“Reading to kids is such a joyful activity,” Rappleyea said. “It’s getting parents engaged with kids, listening to each other even if they have dissenting opinions.”

Ruth Ashever, 13, did Prime Time in 2016. She came back with her brothers, Anania, 9, and Azaria, 6, and her mother, Hiwot Ali.

“I remembered I liked the books and the morals of the stories,” Ruth said. She helps her brothers read at home.

Ali appreciated that “everything is for the kids.” Her boys “like the reading and the food.”

Tiedeman has put her Prime Time knowledge to use.

“I’m reading more with the kids at home now,” she said. “I know the importance of reading. The kids are excited to come to the library. And they get to use their library cards.”