Miami athletes read books to Talawanda elementary students


Screenshot from video

Miami soccer player Emily Sexton reads “After the Fall,” as part of the RedHawk Readers program.

By Rebecca Smith

Miami University athletes are reading storybooks to Talawanda elementary school students in a virtual “RedHawk Readers Program.” 

Each week, a Miami athlete films him or herself reading a children’s book and submits the video to the schools. Teachers from the three elementary schools in the district can show their students the video whenever it fits in their schedule. 

The program was started in February by Henry Beckett, sophomore kicker for the Miami Football Team, to give back to the Oxford community.

“I wanted to help the kids within the context of COVID messing up their normal lives.  Local schools seemed to be the best fit for the idea and giving back to the community that welcomes all the students at Miami into their hometown seemed like something I should try to do,” Beckett said. 

This week’s offering is a reading of “After the Fall,” by Dan Santat, a story about Humpty Dumpty after he was put back together, read by Miami sophomore soccer player Emily Sexton.

Last spring when COVID-19 began and schools moved to remote learning, Kramer Elementary School Principal Jason Merz ran a similar program from his home. He reached out to friends at Miami, Talawanda and the City of Oxford to read stories.

“It was a way to get the community involved and help get stories to the students,” Merz said.

In addition to connecting the community, Merz said the program had purpose for students without access to children’s books to read at home during remote learning.

When Beckett reached out to Talawanda about doing the reading program this year, Merz was immediately interested.

“I couldn’t reply back quick enough to say yes. Anytime we can have students listen to stories and stay connected to books, we will take advantage of it,” the principal said.

Beckett and Merz said that the program’s goal is to get children feeling comfortable reading on their own and have a good time doing it. 

To spark interest with the kids, Beckett has reached out to a variety of athletes, both male and female, to take a turn with story time.

“The idea behind this program is to encourage the kids to read more on their own, so I want as many different types of readers as possible to hopefully reach a broader audience within the kids,” he said. 

Looking forward, both Merz and Beckett want to continue the RedHawk Readers program in person when it is safe to do so. 

“I want to continue the great partnership that we have with Miami University and the athletic program. I can’t wait to have them back in person and continue some of the virtual connections that have been made,” Merz said. 

According to Merz, the program has already had a positive impact on the teachers, parents and students. 

Beckett has had a positive experience with the program as well and hopes it has created some excitement in the students’ days.

“The kids have been deprived of a lot of the interaction from normal school due to COVID, so giving them another source of learning that switches up something in their day I hope will be beneficial to them,” he said. 

For him, the program also has a special connection to family, which was a large reason he reached out to Talawanda in the first place.

“I know my nieces and nephews love being read to, so I hope that the videos incite the same reaction in the kids of the Talawanda School District, as they do to my family’s youngest members,” Beckett said.