MEDORA

On an early Tuesday morning, three Jackson County Sheriff’s Department vehicles and an Indiana State Police trooper’s car were parked outside Medora Community Schools.

Don’t worry. Nothing was wrong at the school.

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Four law enforcement officials were there to pick out books to read to students and talk to them as they ate breakfast in the cafetorium.

Books for Breakfast is a new program at the school, where local law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services personnel are invited to read to students. Teachers and high school students at the school also can participate.

The volunteers are able to model and promote reading and foster positive relationships with the students.

Lt. Andy Wayman with the sheriff’s department has attended both sessions of the program, which is from 7:45 to 8:15 a.m. the first Tuesday of each month.

“If they want us, I feel like it’s our obligation,” he said. “It’s our community. They asked us, and we felt obligated to come. And it’s enjoyable. I like the interaction with the kids.”

Wayman and Lt. Darin Downs both grew up in Medora and still have family in town, so they have a special connection to the small school and community.

“When I was in school, I would have loved to have had this,” said Downs, a 1988 Medora High School graduate.

“When Andy asked me about this, I said, ‘It would be nice to go back down there where I came from and see how they are doing and what they are doing,’” he said.

Downs said he enjoyed his first time reading to the students.

“It’s definitely an awesome thing to do,” he said. “I think the interaction with adults outside of teachers, it’s a different influence for them. They know they’ve got to come to school and have teachers talk to them, but when you have the outside adults come in, like a professional like law enforcement or fire, it gives them somebody different to talk to and ask questions to.”

Plus, the students are able to see the officers in a different light.

“It does kids good to see police officers in here so they aren’t afraid of us,” Downs said.

Jail Commander Charlie Murphy agreed.

“There’s so much negativity on TV about police,” he said. “Getting to them early and showing them that we are their friends and we can help them out, I think that’s a good thing.”

At times, Murphy said the students seemed more interested in asking questions than listening to a story, but that was OK because they were still able to interact with the kids.

“Several of them asked me, ‘Why are you guys here?’” Murphy said. “They didn’t understand it. We just came to talk, and they seemed to warm up to us really well.”

Misti Wieneke, the resource teacher at the school, said Books for Breakfast is an idea borrowed from a similar program of the same name that is implemented at schools within Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Kentucky.

“I actually just happened to see it on a Louisville news program on TV,” Wieneke said. “Their program, I believe, is a one-day event, which involves the local law enforcement donating books and reading to the students during breakfast when they deliver the books.”

She said that program was started to build a positive rapport between students and law enforcement and to promote reading.

“I thought it would be an excellent way for us to invite area law enforcement, EMS and firefighters into our school to continue to foster positive relationships between people in those positions and the students while they are also promoting and modeling reading through readalouds,” Wieneke said.

She then approached Principal Austin Absher about implementing the program at Medora. Absher wholly supported it, and so did Superintendent Roger Bane and the school board.

Wieneke decided to offer it once a month and open it up to law enforcement, EMS and fire personnel. She called or emailed them and sent them a flier about the program.

“These are important people in our community that make strong impressions on students. They look up to them as heroes,” she said. “It gives the students additional reading role models and shows them that even their heroes enjoy reading. Hopefully, they enjoy reading to the students as much as the students enjoy being read to by them.”

She also chose to include Medora staff members and high school students to read to the kids.

There was no cost to start the program. Books already at the school are being used until Wieneke receives books she purchased through the Jean Ann Behney grant, which is awarded to a Medora teacher each year.

That gave Wieneke $400 to spend on books. Since she purchased them from Usborne Books and More with grant money, that company provided additional free books.

“I was able to order $600 in books altogether, approximately 45 hardcover books total,” Wieneke said. “The books include fiction and nonfiction stories ranging in topics from the weather to bugs to princesses.”

In her grant proposal, Wieneke noted that she learned reading aloud to children builds vocabulary, encourages reading for pleasure, motivates them to pursue reading, presents reading role models and generates background knowledge.

“All of these benefits, which would be gained from Books for Breakfast, contribute to the improvement of students’ reading and language skills and becoming lifelong readers,” she wrote.

During the first session Jan. 3, sheriff’s department officers, state police troopers and Jackson County EMS personnel attended. They picked a book and found a table to sit at and read to students.

“The kids seemed to really enjoy it,” Wieneke said. “Several younger students were especially excited to see the volunteers in uniforms and be able to talk with them, too.”

Third-grader Breonna Evans was among those at the Feb. 7 session. She said she enjoyed sitting next to Downs and being able to listen to a story and talk to the officer.

“I loved it,” she said, smiling. “I liked it because you had a police officer reading, and you could talk to them.”

Breonna said it also was a good opportunity to learn about a police officer’s job and pick up a few safety tips.

“I like that they talked about safety, and they told you what you should do if somebody breaks into your house,” she said. “You should hurry up, grab the phone and dial 911.”

Volunteers are welcome to attend as many sessions as they can. The other programs will be March 7, April 4 and May 2.

“Any amount of time that a person is able to volunteer is greatly appreciated,” Wieneke said.

All three sheriff’s department officers said they would be interested in volunteering again. They are working on recruiting others to become involved.

“I’ll definitely come back. It was definitely a good thing to do,” Downs said.

“If they want us here, we’ll be back,” Murphy said.

“Thirty minutes out of our day is a small price to pay,” Wayman said. “We’re happy to do it.”

Wieneke said she plans to continue the program next school year.

“It has been enjoyable for the students and I also believe for the volunteers,” she said.

At a glance

Books for Breakfast is a new program at Medora Community Schools.

Jackson County law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services personnel are invited to visit the school to read books to students while they eat breakfast. Teachers and high school students also are invited to volunteer.

The program is from 7:45 to 8:15 a.m. the first Tuesday of each month. The remaining sessions are March 7, April 4 and May 2.

For information, contact Misti Wieneke at 812-966-2201.

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.