UA Athletes Visit Schools During Love of Reading Month

Ellen Moss
Feb. 13, 2008

University of Arizona graduate student Holly Kast is used to having an audience.

As a diver on the UA's swim and dive team, people look up at her from the stands all the time. Today, however, 16 little faces look up at her from the carpet in their kindergarten classroom at Sewell Elementary School.

Kast is visiting the school as part of Love of Reading Month, an effort to promote the importance of reading in Tucson schools.

"Is it ok if I read to you guys today?" Kast asks the class, and suddenly all 16 students cheer and scoot closer to her and the book that she's brought. One kindergartner jumps up and sits next to Kast.

"I'll turn the pages," she says, smiling.

Every year, UA student-athletes visit schools around Tucson, read to classes and talk to students about why reading is important and the impact that it has on their lives.

"Our student-athletes enjoy helping others and they are able to share their school experiences with these young people," says Phoebe Chalk, assistant athletics director. "I heard a student-athlete tell a first-grade class that reading is going to be one of the most important skills anyone can have."

Visiting schools gives student athletes the chance to talk to children about what it's like to go to college, about how to balance school and sports and also how the UA has positively affected their lives.

"February gives our student-athletes an opportunity to promote reading and the importance of academics," Chalk says, adding that the athletics department has received 60 requests for athletes to participate in community service events this month.

Ana Agy, also a member of the UA swim and dive team, prepares to read to fifth-graders at Sewell, asking them to pick some of their favorite poems from Shel Silverstein's "Where the Sidewalk Ends."

The students are gathered around Agy in a classroom where UA posters hang next to posters about math.

"Reading lets you study and learn things about the world, but it also lets you escape into different worlds of literature," Agy says before she starts reading. "It can be really relaxing."

In between poems, Agy asks the class questions: Who plays an instrument? Who speaks a different language? What sports does everyone play?

Hands fly into the air – the students anxious to answer her questions.

Before she leaves, Agy takes some questions from the kids, who are impressed that she knows some UA basketball players. She answers questions about her role models, what inspired her to swim and what sport she would play if she weren't a swimmer.

On her way out of the classroom, Agy reminds the fifth-graders to keep up with their reading.

"It will be really important to you forever," she says.

Kast and Agy are just two of many UA student-athletes who volunteer their time to participate in community service projects throughout the year. Athletes visit hospitals, the food bank and shelters, among other places in the Tucson community.