Two caterpillars and a plethora of hop-scotch patterns were painted on the playground at Sharon Elementary Thursday, thanks to 40 volunteers from Utah Valley University. The project at the school was one of 36 service projects that took place across Utah County for the annual United Way Day of Caring.
Students, faculty and staff showed up to help with the painting project aimed at improving the reading comprehension of elementary students within the community. Letters of the alphabet and numbers were spray-painted across the kid-friendly designs, as well as a color-coded map of all 50 states.
“This project here is another example of things that we can do to help our kids be better prepared for school and do better in school,” said Bill Hulterstrom, president and CEO of the United Way of Utah County, who visited the site mid-way through the project. “Three out of ten children in Utah County do not read at grade level by third grade, and third grade reading scores help predict so many positive and negative things in life.”
Last year, a study conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that only 25 percent of Utah’s fourth-grade students were reading at a proficient level. Thirty-two percent of students were below the basic grade level in reading comprehension.
Jenny Stites, a pre-school and kindergarten teacher at Sharon Elementary, watched over her students during recess as volunteers laid down alphabet stencils behind her. Stites said she thinks incorporating the letters, numbers and shapes into the playground at school will be great for the kids academically.
“I’m excited to use [the patterns] when they’re ready,” Stites said. “Even the kids that are higher academically can say, ‘hey, come jump on the J with me, come find the T with me.’ If there are some kids that don’t know them, or don’t recognize the sounds, their friends can help them find them.”
Tony Nwabuba, an information technology student, wore a ‘Live United’ t-shirt as he traced the antennae of one of the caterpillars with green paint. Nwabuba, who moved from Nigeria to Orem about a year and a half ago, volunteered at the Day of Caring with a few other members of the African Club.
“We live here in Utah, in Orem, that’s where we go to school, so it’s good for us to volunteer to help out in the community with projects like this,” said Nwaruba with a paintbrush in his hand. “This enriches your learning, it’s not just us using a calculator and doing mathematics, but learning how to be a part of the society you live in.”
An estimated 2,000 volunteers took part in the Day of Caring in Utah County alone. Service projects were set up in other counties across the state as well.