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Reading becomes a 'bear' necessity

September 17, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

Reading lessons at Paramount Elementary School took a twist this week when they were delivered to students by a new friend - a bear that arrived by mail.

It wasn't a live bear, but considering all his trappings, McHenry Book Bear almost passed as a real life character.

Inside the stuffed teddy bear's box was food for his nationwide trip, a journal to tell where he's been and even a Web site to explain his project.

"He even gets to go to Hawaii, and we don't," said Diane Mentzer, media specialist at Paramount.

The 15-inch-tall bear was developed by McHenry Elementary School in Rome, Ga., as a way to promote reading in schools across the country. Schools that participate in the McHenry Book Bear Project receive the bear through the mail.

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McHenry Book Bear arrived at Paramount Monday in a cardboard box labeled "Book Bear on Board." His assignment for the week is reading plenty of bear books, which according to Mentzer, are not hard to find in elementary libraries.

There's a geography lesson tucked into it too. Participating schools are mailed a worksheet in advance of McHenry Book Bear's arrival explaining what school he is at. The worksheet quizzes students about the geographical location of the state he's in, as well as other related questions, Mentzer said.

When he arrives at the students' school, the kids detail the bear's activities during the week in a journal that is packed away with his other belongings and sent to the next school, Mentzer said.

Mentzer said McHenry Book Bear was a big hit at the school Tuesday. Students giggled about the arrival of their new friend, and talked about cuddling the figure in his first day at the school.

McHenry Book Bear will be at Paramount, the only Maryland school he's visiting, until Friday. He will then be shipped to Wexler Elementary School in New Haven, Conn.

McHenry Book Bear left McHenry Elementary School Aug. 15 and will visit 36 schools across the country before returning home in May.

Mentzer said she discovered the program over the summer after corresponding with McHenry Elementary School teacher Tony Pope about the project.

Mentzer said the program was open to any school that agreed to pay the $30 cost of having the bear shipped to their school.

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