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Stories from the valley

Horsin’ around for the sake of literacy

Contributed by Roberta Firoved

What do horses, books, the Rotary International and the West Sacramento Trail Riders Association (WSTRA) have in common with second grade students? They have teamed up for a literacy event that makes reading fun while connecting students to the rural heritage of their community.

Rotary International was originally started to eradicate polio by providing vaccinations worldwide. With polio almost completely under control, Rotary International began focusing on other areas of need including promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water, saving mothers and children, supporting education and growing local economies. Each new district leader selects an area of focus during their term. Three years ago that focus was literacy under the supporting education category.

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The president of West Sacramento Rotary Centennial thought up a creative way to promote literacy with second grade school children. Don Schatzel is also a member of WSTRA along with his wife and second grade teacher, Penny Schatzel. The Rotary Centennial and the WSTRA clubs split the cost of purchasing books and transportation to the event. Approximately one dozen WSTRA members contribute their time along with providing horses, ponies, draft horses, and mules. What started with two schools grew to the third annual event to include all second grade students in the West Sacramento school district.

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One might ask how the industry affairs manager for the California Rice Commission became involved in such an event. I belong to both organizations even though I no longer own a horse. For some reason, it was decided I would do a good job as the emcee. Speaking to and keeping the attention of over 250 second graders can be more daunting that presenting to rice farmers on new regulatory requirements. The role of emcee to children approximately eight years old has been one of my most challenging speaking engagements. However, each time I finish feeling good about the new experience we provided to so many children, who never have never met a horse, touched it and now have a better understanding of the rural heritage of their community.  The look on the children’s faces makes it worthwhile. …and yes, they do say the darndest things.