Students at Fountain Green Elementary School are finding out all about Humphrey the Hamster and his trials and tribulations at school — during the day and at night.
Each student in the school has a homework assignment Monday through Thursday, to read the next chapter of “The World According to Humphrey,” a series by Betty E. Birney. It’s about a classroom pet hamster who tells the stories of the school days, and nights, as he sees them.
The books, one for each family at Fountain Green, were paid for by the PTA.
“Last year, the focus of the PTA was more on family and community involvement. I felt like this tied right in with that,” Fountain Green reading specialist Dawn Rose said. “The idea is to bring everyone together and have that same reading experience and getting to share it with their families and getting to share it with their teachers.”
The PTA felt the reading program would “foster a greater sense of family and togetherness,” Fountain Green PTA President Nykisha M. Kimble said, and families can talk about the story and anticipate what happens next.
“We also made the decision to go this route with the school-wide program, because it not only fosters a sense of community outside of school, but also inside the school within the student body. It is a pleasure to see and hear the students discussing Humphrey with their friends,” Kimble said.
Parents can read the book aloud to their children, or everyone can take part in reading, whatever works best, Rose said. The idea behind the program, through Read to Them, is to promote reading, which not everyone has time for.
“Every kid enjoys listening to books, so it just brings the family involvement,” she said.
This is the first time Fountain Green, which has about 500 students, has done a school-wide reading and kicked off the program in December.
“The students love it. We had a lot of exciting things done in school they’ve been looking forward to,” Rose said.
Each week in December, Rose and her colleagues Dawn Borg, a paraeducator, and Lori Sheahen, a special educator, provided new clues for students to guess what book they’d be reading and what animal it involved.
The big reveal — though many students had already guessed the book — was during an assembly two days before winter break, when chief custodian Ron Edwards, known as Mr. Ron to the students, performed a skit.
Painted rocks as hamster were hidden around the school and students who found them received prizes. The last one was found last week. Each student also made a “hamster,” a paper cutout they could decorate as they chose. They also made nametags for themselves.
Rose chose the first book of the Humphrey series for the school-wide reading because it’s good for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, she said.
“It teaches a lot of lessons about understanding differences in other students, other families,” Rose said. “I thought the themes in the book would relate well to the students here at Fountain Green.”
It also introduces students who may not like to read to a series, and if they like the first book, can continue more with the main character, Rose said.
Fountain Green Principal Alison Donnelly said the book ties in with the theme of the program: “Reading is important and everybody reads.”
“I love the excitement of the children, about reading a book, about the discussions they’re having,” Donnelly said. “So the excitement, the motivation was built up in December and now they’re actually reading the book and they’re excited about reading it.”
A chapter is read each night at home, and the following day teachers ask trivia questions — the class that answers the most questions correctly gets a prize at the end.
Some of the teachers have been reading the books to the younger students in the lower grades, Rose said.
Reading the book together provides an opportunity for family time, she said.
“They can discuss something they have in common. With the families that Humphrey encounters in the book, there’s a lot that parents will have to talk to kids about,” Rose said, “understanding how different families work, maybe traditions in their family, things that make their family special versus other families. It even pulls in different cultures.”
Families talk about movie nights, but reading together is a wonderful alternative, Donnelly said.
“Families can talk about characters in the book or situations the families encounter,” she said. “Those are good discussions for families to have to see how families live differently, because in the book, some do have different family environments.”
The program is scheduled to be finished by the end of January.
“Just seeing the conversations the kids have. I’ve had many kids stop me in the hallway saying I read this, or ask if they found all the rocks,” Rose said. “They’re just so excited, I’m just hoping to see that continue.”