Every day is fun at the Buckner Mary Jo Gorden Child Development Center. Smiles and laughter fill classrooms each day as children play with each other and learn the building blocks of knowledge.
But Wednesdays are special. That’s when Caroline Chance comes, welcomed with the full rock star treatment of children chanting her name as she comes into the classroom.
Judging by the joy on her face, the Lufkin High School senior is as excited to be there as the 4- and 5-year-olds waiting for her. With loads of books in her arms, she is the highlight of the week for many of the children.
For the past three years, Caroline has read to children at Buckner weekly during the school year. After the initial excitement of her coming, the children scramble to their name tags on the carpet, where they hang on Caroline’s every word for 45 minutes.
“The best part about doing this is getting to see the kids and see how excited they are,” Caroline said. “They are so, so precious. It’s just amazing to see them get excited about reading.”
The Pepperdine University-bound student varies the books she reads to keep the children interested and engaged. She’s read classics from Dr. Seuss and the Berenstain Bears to more contemporary stories about characters they know.
“I choose books that are interesting for the children,” she said. “That’s going to stimulate them. They think, ‘I’ve watched these characters on television with my parents. I want to read more about them.’”
If the children pay attention – and they always do – each child is rewarded with a book from the stack Caroline brings each time. They’re books collected through the nonprofit started by her older brother and carried forward by her, Books that Benefit.
Getting to take home a book further stokes the excitement about reading. Boys often gravitate toward books about cars and animals such as sharks or reptiles. Girls tend toward books with brighter colors and sparkles. No matter what they pick, Caroline is enthused by the children’s excitement about reading.
“I love getting young kids excited about reading books,” she said. “Reading is the basis for our education, for how you develop your mind. If you get kids involved early reading books, it’s going to expand their vocabulary and stimulate their minds.”
Holly Valentine, Buckner Family Pathways director in Lufkin, said Caroline has accomplished her mission. Children are excited to read, expanding their knowledge base and imagination.
“Caroline has instilled the love of books and the importance of literacy to our young children over the last three years,” Holly said. She isn’t just reading to the children, she is putting quality books in each of their hands weekly, providing our children with their own home library.”
A love of reading accelerates each child’s education, Caroline notes. A child who reads regularly will be more prepared for school and likely will do better when they get there.
“I just hope the kids get excited about reading,” Caroline said. “I hope as they get older they don’t dread it. Reading is something they look forward to. Reading is enjoyable.”