Reading allows fresh view of life

January 12, 2007|by LISA PREJEAN

Reading the children's picture book "The Spelling Window" by Dawn L. Watkins has taken me back a few years to my college days.

I was an unpaid intern for Pennsylvania Radio Network, working for college credit in the capitol building in Harrisburg, Pa. Each afternoon following class, I would drive across the Susquehanna River with a sense of anticipation. It was exciting to work in such a beautiful, important building.

The capitol building's vaulted dome, which weighs 52 million pounds and rises 272 feet, was modeled after St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. More than 100,000 people tour the building each year, according to the Hershey-Harrisburg Area Welcome Center Web site,

This so-called "pinnacle of the Commonwealth" is the setting for Watkins' tale of a field trip taken by two sisters and their deaf friend. The sights they see and the experiences they have change their perspectives in many ways. Their differences don't seem extreme once they have a shared experience outside of their neighborhood.


I told my students this week about the responsibility that was required in order to work in the capitol building. You had to be where you were supposed to be when you were supposed to be there - with the right equipment.

Important decisions are made in the capitol every day. People expect a lot from their elected representatives, and voters need to know what is going on inside those stately walls.

Many times I had to rush back to the newsroom area after covering a press conference. One day as I was hurrying down the marble staircase winding underneath the dome, I lost my footing. The next few moments felt like slow motion as I slid, bounced and skidded down the beautiful stairs, determinedly holding up the tape recorder. I didn't want to damage the machine or the tape and lose the quotations that had just been delivered.

Thankfully, the machine came through unscathed. I had no broken bones, but the bruises took awhile to heal.

As a third-grade teacher, I always try to relate real-life experiences to what we are reading in class. If a child can connect with a story, it will be easier for him to understand what he is reading.

If it helps him remember the setting by thinking of his teacher falling down the stairs, so be it.

We all have personal experiences that we relate to what we read. It's good to talk about these to children so they can link experiences they've had to what they are reading.

Today in class we plan to host two special guests - both who "spell on their fingers and talk with their hands," Watkins' way of describing sign language.

My aim is to help children relate to the deaf community by shared experience. Perhaps sharing my work experiences at the capitol and introducing them to a deaf person and an interpreter will aid in their understanding of "The Spelling Window" and its purpose.

Most children probably haven't considered what it would be like for a deaf person to take a field trip and end up getting stuck alone on an elevator. That would be scary for any child but even more so for a deaf child who has never been on an elevator.

At the beginning of the story, one of the girls thinks it's strange that her sister communicates with the deaf boy next door. By the end of the story, they both want to reach out to him and understand his world.

If by reading about these experiences other children desire to do likewise, Watkins will have accomplished much in her little tale.

As a teacher and a parent, I want to do what I can to encourage that kind of response.

After all, reading should affect us in a way that we want to see changes in our world, especially if they need to begin on our doorstep.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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