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Book Buddies

Education students read stories to hospital children


by Sally Claunch
The Shorthorn staff

Five-year-old Andrew Wilman looked at the pictures with a smile on his face as Natalie Brewer read "The Red Barn" to him. Andrew did not want to get his I.V. until his mother arrived, and he periodically looked at his Mickey Mouse watch to check the time.

He is a patient at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth. Brewer, an education graduate student, spent an hour reading four books to Andrew as he patiently waited for his mother. She said he especially liked the animals in the books.

"When I would read about a cat he would start meowing," Brewer said. "I had a great time; he was so adorable."

Brewer is one of 44 students who is currently taking children's literature and language, an education class here. As part of the curriculum, the students are required to read books to children. Usually, the students would read to classes at local public schools, but because the schools are not in session now, they went to the hospital to read to the children there. Unlike many of the volunteers who go to the hospital, the university students not only read to the students in the playroom, but also beside their beds.

Degreed education student Claudia Villanueva, read to Shelbey Phillips, 7, and Shelbey's little sister Larame, 2, as they both sat up in the hospital bed they shared.

"Little Larame soon fell asleep, but Shelbey continued to read along with me," she said. "She really liked it."

Kathleen Tice, education clinical professor, teaches the class and said her students enjoyed reading to the children. She said some of them are considering going back to the hospital to read after the class is over. Brewer said she wants to volunteer again.

"I thought I might get hooked on this when I was on my way over here," she said. "And I am now - I'll try to get out here again."

Elementary education senior Dotty Murphey read and played games with 10-year-old Addie Canada. When Dotty began reading more slowly, Addie would excitedly point to the place on the page and ask her to continue. Addie said Dotty was reading her favorite book and that she liked to play "Payday" with Murphey.

"She's really good at the money part of that game," Murphey said, laughing.

Dr. Tice said her students have been happy to read to the children, not just because they have to do it for the class, but because it has been gratifying to them personally.

"It's a rewarding experience," she said. "I thought this was a good opportunity for both the children and the university students," she said.

Wendy Misfeldt, community program coordinator for the hospital, said the children and hospital staffers have complimented the university students on the good job they're doing. She said this is the first time she's ever gotten a letter from staffers on a particular group of volunteers.

"It's working out really well," she said. "If the class wants to do it again, I'll ask them to come back. This has been the most successful bedside reading program we've had. I'm sending them all volunteer applications so they'll come back as individual volunteers."