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Thoreau Elementary students to demonstrate importance of literacy through song

May 8, 2009 By Heather Gjerde

More than 200 Madison Metropolitan School District students will come together on Monday, May 11, to share what they have learned from a literacy program that stresses self-esteem through music.

The annual “Ready, Set, Read” performance, featuring students from Thoreau Elementary School, will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the Overture Center, 201 State St.

The program is run by Leotha Stanley, a well-known local musician and the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s assistant to the director of community relations, who spends six to eight weeks at different elementary schools implementing the program. Students perform in a culminating concert at the end of each program, using music as a key to highlight literacy, while the concert focuses on self-esteem.

“I use music as a common bond for all the kids, so that they’re all at the same level while they sing,” Stanley says. “It’s not about how well they read at the time, it’s about building their self esteem and their interest level so that they want to read and become good students in school.”

In “Ready, Set, Read,” students sing and incorporate music into learning to increase levels of literacy and interest in reading. According to Stanley, he incorporates classic rhythm and blues, such as Smokey Robinson and Aretha Franklin, rather than the classical music like he was limited to in his own education.

“It’s not the fact they sing well, but that they’re coming alive,” Stanley says. “That’s important to see that there are differences made just because we’re there, and I love that.”

Thoreau third-, fourth- and fifth-graders will have the opportunity to first perform in front of their school and younger students, and then perform for the community.

“The community needs to support the children because that’s where they get a lot of their motivation,” Stanley adds. “When they see people care, that they don’t think normally care, we see them light up.”

Twenty-five students will be featured as soloists, while 225 other students from the program sing in the background, performing 10 songs overall. Stanley, along with his wife, Tamera, will be conducting at the concert. A small instrumental ensemble will accompany the singers.

The event is sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor and is free and open to the public. Some of the featured guests who will speak at the event include the Chancellor Biddy Martin, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and Assistant School Superintendent Sue Abplanalp. Bucky Badger will also attend, expressing the importance of reading with actions rather than words.