Reading activity offers mutual enjoyment for FHSU president, preschoolers

President Martin reads

By Diane Gasper-O'Brien
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. -- She is comfortable speaking to crowds of any size -- and any age.

But Dr. Mirta M. Martin admits she has a soft place in her heart for the young ones, especially the very young ones. It's easy to see why.

One day last week already had been a long morning for Martin, president of Fort Hays State University, when she walked through the door of the Tiger Tots preschool/daycare center in Rarick Hall at 10 a.m.

She appeared preoccupied as she opened the door, but her expression immediately changed to a big smile as 20 miniature students ages 3 to 5 years old greeted her with hearty hellos and high-fives.

For a half hour at least, Martin could unwind and let down her guard.

"I saw you at the Easter egg hunt," piped up one youngster, in reference to the Kiwanis Easter egg hunt held annually near the Memorial Union and on the lawn of the university president's home.

Martin chatted with the students as she sat on the floor among them, then deferred to a chair to read "The Grouchy Ladybug" to the preschoolers.

" 'Boys and girls, let's show Dr. Martin how well we can listen; we showed her how well we can talk,' " said Sara Stroup, director of Tiger Tots.

And so Martin began the story, which featured several themes and morals, including a grouchy ladybug that tried to bully other animals -- to no avail.

Exhibiting patience with a capital P, Martin answered the youngsters' questions as they interrupted her reading.

Martin interjected her own thoughts into the story as illustrations of various animals appeared at the turn of each page.

She talked about baby bunnies running through her back yard and pinched her nose shut while asking the children if they had ever seen a skunk.

"Have you seen a possum?" one little boy asked enthusiastically.

It was hard to tell who was enjoying the activity more. Martin totally got involved with the story, using hand motions to enhance the narration.

"Wasn't that a fun story?" Martin asked the youngsters after she finished the story. "Thank you for letting me share it with you."

The children's excitement was invigorating, especially after the serious business a university president faces daily.

"I really enjoy their energy and their incredibly positive outlook on life," Martin said. "They think they can do anything. It's a good reminder to all of us what we can accomplish."

Martin's visit was one of several in a new reading program implemented by Tiger Tots and was a good lead-in to this week, which is National Library Week.

"We're hoping to do this at least once a month," Stroup said, "reaching out into the community of Fort Hays State to come visit and read in our classroom. I think it's really good for the children."

Ditto for Martin.

"What's the old adage about how everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten?" she asked. "Share, be polite, say please and thank you, show empathy. These children aren't even in kindergarten yet, but you can still learn a lot from them."

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