By Mississippi State University
STARKVILLE – Each year, Mississippi State University’s Maroon Edition First-Year Reading Experience makes a common book the focal point of campus-wide discussions and activities.
This year, the university is finding new ways to expand the experience throughout the state and touch other students, some as young as third-graders.
After MSU President Mark E. Keenum asked MSU freshmen this semester to collectively read Eudora Welty’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Optimist’s Daughter,” Maroon Edition coordinators began planning a youth outreach component that utilizes the MSU Extension Service’s statewide 4-H program.
Their efforts resulted in a project that brings the late Pulitzer Prize-winning Jackson author’s work to a wide audience beyond the Starkville campus. A key goal of the project is to give Mississippi children a lesson in reading comprehension.
MSU first lady Rhonda Keenum, who spearheaded the first youth project in 2010, again has a leading role in the 2011 project that involves at least 12 elementary schools stretching from Marshall County to George County.
According to this year’s plan, older 4-H students will dress as the colorful bird characters from Welty’s “The Shoe Bird” while presenting dramatic readings to elementary-age audiences. The young students then will respond by drawing pictures of what the book means to them.
Linda Mitchell, extension 4-H youth development specialist, is working with the literacy team to help the 4-Hers prepare from the only book Welty wrote for young audiences. Performances will focus on third- through fifth-grade audiences.
Mitchell said the participating elementary schools were randomly selected from each district of the state.
Rhonda Keenum said the Maroon Edition plays off the common experience of students on the Starkville campus, but utilizes the 4-H program to give that shared experience a new, statewide perspective.
“We are always looking to provide resources to our state, and any programs that promote reading and comprehension for young people give us a valuable opportunity,” she said.
Mitchell characterized “The Shoe Bird” as a book that provides “the right context” for youthful creativity.
“This is such a visual book, and I really like that it has such interesting characters with different voices,” Mitchell said.