A 'New Dimension'

Generous servings of homemade fries in Sherwood Forest are encouraging children and parents to read together.

The FRIES Program (Family Reading Is Essential for Success), the brainchild of two Sherwood Forest Elementary parents and PTA leaders, has attracted lots of local readers. FRIES is a series of five reading nights throughout the school year during which pre-assigned children's’ books are discussed. Children and their parents read the books together before the reading night so they can join together in activities related to the books.

“There are 120 students who have registered for FRIES, many more than the 50 we expected,” said Audrey Germanis, one of the program’s creators. “We’re seeing parents we don’t ordinarily see at school activities, no one’s put on the spot, and everyone seems to be having lots of fun”

To be eligible for the grand prize at the conclusion of the five reading nights, students who register have to attend at least three of the events, read all of the assigned books, and complete worksheets for those reading nights they miss. Each participating student must also bring along a parent or other family member who has read the book with them.

Sara Klaas’ children, Elisabeth, a fourth grader, and Derek, a first grader, are both registered.

“It’s a great experience. My kids like to read anyway, but this way there are a group of students who are sharing a story they all had read,” Klass said. “The interaction among the students and with the adults adds a whole new dimension to reading together.”

FRIES is open to all Sherwood Forest students, and those participating have divided themselves into three groups; small fries, medium fries and large fries, according to the level of difficulty of the assigned books.

“We’ll see first graders in with fourth graders and fourth graders in with sixth graders, and that’s a good thing in terms of students getting to know each other beyond their classrooms,” Germanis said.

“It’s a great atmosphere, very informal, and it’s good to hear children discussing the stories in their own words,” added Jeff Clare, who attended a recent session with his fourth-grade son, Shane.

Each reading night lasts for one hour, from 7 to 8 p.m., and the fries and their parents are divided into small groups, with local teachers and other volunteers acting as moderators. In a recent session, besides a discussion of the assigned book, the small fries made masks based on book characters, the medium fries shared stories of the unique words and phrases that each family has for certain events and activities, and the large fries engaged in a trivia contest that pitted students against adults.

“This program gets us to read different books than we would ordinarily,” Sherwood Forest parent Laurie Hartman said. “My children also see they could read harder books than they thought.”

The program was funded by a Federal Way Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation grant, and several local businesses have provided incentives and prizes.

A local bookstore has provided discounts for families wishing to purchase the books, which are also available in area libraries.

“Teresa Tillman, a good friend, and I have been dreaming of doing something like this for years. She, my husband, my son and I were sitting around the kitchen table the night before the grant was due, trying to come up with a clever name for it,” Germanis said. “First we thought of FROGS, but FRIES is much better – maybe we can franchise it.”

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