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Generations of Lake City students learn to read with Ms. Mary

Fourth grader Walker Stark reads to Mary Nettleton in the Lake City Community School Library.
Laura Palmisano
/
KVNF
Fourth grader Walker Stark reads to Mary Nettleton in the Lake City Community School Library.

Octogenarian Mary Nettleton has helped generations of Lake City students learn to read. Nettleton, who's blind, has volunteered at the local school for more than two decades.

Once a week during the school year, she walks to the Lake City Community School with the aid of her seeing-eye dog Hamlet. Yes, his name is a literary nod to Shakespeare.

Nettleton is here to read with students from the combined fourth and fifth grade class.

“One o’clock on Friday afternoons I’m at school and I’m always disappointed if they have a field trip,” she says.

Trip Horn teaches both fourth and fifth grade in this tiny school of just over 80 students.

“They actually fight over who gets to read with Ms. Mary on Fridays,” he says. “I pick three students every week. They love her. I think she’s very positive and gives great feedback. It’s a great thing for our class.”

The kids meet one-on-one with Nettleton in the school’s small library.

Nettleton is blind but she doesn’t need to see what the children are reading in order to help them.

“I can tell a lot just by listening,” she says. “Sometimes I hear things in their reading that might not come up in the classroom because they are not the only [student].”

Rebecca Hall is the school’s superintendent and principal.

“That’s what’s so amazing about Mary is she’s probably the best listener we have in town,” Hall says.

Nettleton explains how she helps students improve their reading over the course of the school year.

“I correct things I need to [and] I explain words,” she says. “We work on, if the student needs it, fluency and expression [and] stopping at periods and commas.”

She says it’s a learning process but she tries to make it fun.

“If they are uncomfortable about their reading or a little embarrassed, it’s a safe place,” Nettleton says. “I’m not judging. I’m not a teacher. I’m not a parent. I’m not a friend. I’m just a grandmother who likes to listen to children read.”

Fourth grader Walker Stark says he enjoys his time with Ms. Mary.

“I just want to read to someone,” he says. “I just usually read by myself. It’s helpful, really helpful.”

Nettleton has volunteered at the school for 25 years.

“I’m reading with children of children I began to read with,” she says.

Superintendent Hall says volunteers, like Ms. Mary, are essential to the school where staff have multiple roles.

“We are not just a one grade teacher, we are a multigrade teacher,” she says. “I’m superintendent and principal. Nobody wears just one hat here.”

83-year-old Nettleton takes satisfaction in volunteering and says it benefits the community. Superintendent Hall says her school and others have multiple volunteer opportunities.

“We have community members who drive our students to events,” she says. “We have long distances to travel. We have volunteers who help us serve our hot lunch. We have volunteers who come and work with students one-on-one with either reading or academic needs.”

Back in the library, it’s clear that Ms. Mary’s favorite subject in school is reading.

“Reading is vital,” she says. “It’s the underpinning I think of everything. I think it’s more important than math but I’m not a math person so that’s just subjective.”

Nettleton has this parting advice for parents.

“I think the most important thing a parent can do in terms of academics is to read to their child and it’s never too late to start reading with your children,” she says.

Laura joined KVNF in 2014. She was the news director for two years and now works as a freelance reporter covering Colorado's Western Slope. Laura is an award-winning journalist with work recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, Colorado Broadcasters Association, and RTDNA. In 2015, she was a fellow for the Institute for Justice & Journalism. Her fellowship project, a three-part series on the Karen refugee community in Delta, Colorado, received a regional Edward R. Murrow Award.