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When it comes to reading, Hudson high-schooler rocks

Rockin’ reader Isaias Sanchez took his turn in front of Deena Whitwam’s camera recommending a book he likes to other students. He is one of more than 225 students who have made close to 200 video book reports that are broadcast on the school TV station. (Submitted photo)

HUDSON, Wis. -- Hudson High School junior Deena Whitwam is as familiar around Rock Elementary School as she is at the high school -- and pretty popular as well.

For the past three years, Whitwam has been at the center of a schoolwide initiative to promote reading called “Rockin’ Reads.” Before her family relocated to Hudson, she ran a neighborhood book club for kids. It was so popular that when she learned that Hudson schools had launched a districtwide initiative to promote reading at all levels, she thought of expanding the book club to a whole school and targeted Rock Elementary, where her mother is school counselor.

Whitwam came up with the idea to make video book reports with students recommending their latest read and then broadcast the videos on the school’s closed-circuit TV.

The idea took off, and as of this week, Whitwam has made close to 200 videos using her cellphone with nearly 200 students. She wrote a simple script where the information from the students about their book is inserted. There is usually a prop or two, and every video begins with a musical intro and usually a dance by the student or students.

Whitwam is a busy person. She is the junior class president and participates in student council. She runs track and cross country and is a member of the National Honor Society. When she is at Rock to tape, she moves through the halls at a pretty good clip and has learned that if she is going to get all the students on tape who want to participate, she has to limit rehearsals and retakes.

She said the experience has taught her a lot about the efficient use of her time. As for reading, she already knew how important it was, and watching the Rock students get more excited about reading confirms that.

When her family was planning a trip to South Africa last summer and would be visiting the Kliptown Youth Program in Soweto, Whitwam came up with the idea of a book drive at Rock for the library there.

“I set it up to run for 30 days and in only three we had some 700 books and toys. It was amazing,” she said. “We didn’t have any incentives to donate, but the kids just brought them in. We packed them up and when we delivered them, the kids there couldn’t believe it. They were so happy. It was a great experience, and I made sure the kids here knew how important it was what they did.”

Whitwam isn’t sure what her future holds. She will likely pursue a career that will involve math.

What she is certain of is that she will continue to find ways to give back, especially to children. “I just know that I want to make a difference in this world in whatever way I can,” she said.

Whitwam is the daughter of Wayne Whitwam, a high school principal in Centennial, Minn., and Kelly Curtis, Rock school counselor.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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