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Mavericks making a difference

Every Wednesday, a group of CMU student-athletes walk into Orchard Avenue Elementary School and the kids come running.

“As soon as we walk in, they’re up out of their desks and meeting us at the door. They want to read with an athlete, they don’t want to be on the computer,” said lacrosse student-athlete Mike Ezell.

A few years ago, the elementary school created Den Time — for 30 minutes, five days a week more than a dozen second and third graders arrive to school early to work on their reading skills. In addition to reading books, students use Lexia, a popular computer program designed to help readers build skills such as phonics and vocabulary. But each Wednesday, the children push their computers aside, pick out a book and sit next to their favorite CMU lacrosse player.  

“The kids are really excited to read with an athlete from Colorado Mesa University. It’s been a huge draw to our Den Time program,” said Orchard Avenue Teacher and Interventionist Jade Decker.

The lacrosse team has designated Wednesday mornings as their weekly time to give back to the community.

“I really like working with kids and teaching them how to read. You can see that spark on their face when they get through a difficult word or improve in some way,” said Student-Athlete Advisory Council Lacrosse Coordinator Christian Cherry. “I’ve been working with the same kid for a while now and he’s reading quicker and getting through words easier and it’s really fun to watch him grow as a reader.”

By attending Den Time, the elementary students walk into class already having read six books before school has even started.

The Head Men's Lacrosse Coach Vince Smith said the program not only benefits the students at Orchard Avenue but his student-athletes as well. He said volunteering gets the guys involved in the community outside of the sports setting.

“It’s a humbling experience that gives players the chance to be more than just a student-athlete and allows them to focus on something other than themselves,” said Smith.

Ezell said he has started holding his own actions to a higher standard since reading at the elementary school.

“I see these kids looking up to us and it makes me want to be better,” he said.

Cherry, a biology major, has been organizing the efforts for a couple of years and wants his entire team to learn the value of volunteering.

“Giving back to the community is vitally important and if we can have an impact both on the field and off, that’s most beneficial to everybody,” said Cherry.

Decker said they are fortunate to have a partnership with CMU athletics and hope it continues for a long time to come.

“The 30 minutes the athletes spend reading with the kids really adds up,” said Decker.

She said she wants every athlete volunteering to know that their time makes a significant difference in the children’s lives.

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Written by Kelsey Coleman