‘Oaky’ helps pupils to read and grow stronger

Roscoe Williams, programme manager of Read to Rise, speaks to the Grade 2A class at Northwood Primary School.

Just like Oaky, the acorn, grows into a big oak tree, so is the book growing in the hearts and minds of Grade 2 pupils in Mitchell’s Plain.

Oaky and the sun, is being given to every Grade 2 pupil in Mitchell’s Plain to teach them about book ownership and to improve their literacy.

Read to Rise, a non-profit organisation, hopes to have visited every one of the 46 schools in the area before the end of the year.

They have distributed the sequel entitled Oaky the happy tree to Grade 3 pupils.

Before the pupils received the book, they are read to, and given the opportunity to sing, discuss the book and on occasion meet Westridge-born and raised author Athol Williams and his wife illustrator Tarryn Lock.

On Wednesday August 10, the Plainsman accompanied Read to Rise to Northwood Primary School, in Woodlands, where pupils – during an interactive session – learned to grow from being an acorn (a baby), to a sampling (Grade 2 pupil), to a small oak tree (like their older siblings, youth) and a big oak tree (like their parents or an adult).

The book details the growth of an acorn, asking for direction from the sun, as to which way to grow.

The sun then tells Oaky: “Grow, up here.”

On receiving the books, the pupils promised to do their homework and to read more.

Read to Rise first distributed the book to 10 schools in Mitchell’s Plain in 2013; 22 schools the following year; and made it to 46 schools last year. Thus far all Grade 3 pupils have the second book and they hope to reach all of the Grade 2 pupils by the end of the year.

Mr Williams told the Plainsman he wrote the book to help with literacy and to give children something interesting to read.

“Something inspirational for them to learn, a positive message and images, which they can see themselves and a story which would appeal to them,” he said.

Having grown up in the area, Mr Williams understands the social pressures and wrote a book to inspire children to rise above their circumstances.

“We believe that children need to read in order to rise in their personal development, we do this by visiting schools in under-resourced areas and delivering our programme,” he said.

Mr Williams said they recently had a board meeting, at which they discussed the reading abilities of pupils differing vastly in classrooms, from knowing every answer to a child who cannot read.

“Similarly the socio-economic needs are vast,” he said.

The non-profit organisation’s main aim is to improve access to books, based on the assumption that the children can read.

He said placing emphasis on the children who cannot read would shift their focus.

Mr Williams encouraged parents to not only read, but also discuss the book with their children.

He said teachers are stretched and under-resourced. “Parents have to do something,” he said.

Mr Williams said his enjoyment of books is purely based on his experience. “I was able to do all the degrees because my father always had a book in his hand. I wanted a book in my hand,” he said.

He said going to the classroom is just their small contribution to improve literacy. The first school to receive the book – in 2013 – was Meadowridge Primary School.

Beatrice Louw, a Grade 2 teacher at the Lentegeur school, said the pupils were really enjoying reading.

In addition to each pupil being given a book, classes are given 50 selected books, in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa, which are covered and placed in a wooden block – the classroom mini-library.

Ms Louw said the pupils have read all of the books.

She said there are just a few pupils in her class who cannot read but they look at the pictures and can recognise some words, to piece together the story.

“I am happy to have these books in my class,” she said.

“My literacy has improved. My children have moved groups and they are improving too,” she said.