Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. A group of toddlers and their mothers gathered around Mike Sivcovich who read from “Windblown,” by Edouard Manceau, one of his favorites, and from the rapt expression on the kids’ faces, one of their favorites too.
It was Thursday morning at the Nederland Community Library, Story Time, an event that is welcomed by kids and moms alike, a time to interact with other children and let someone else do the reading.
It is a happy time. It is also a time to lay the foundation for a child’s love of reading. As a former teacher, Mike understands the link between listening to stories and learning to read.
“Kids are into the interactive books,” says Mike. “Like ‘Don’t Push the Button,’ invites the children to talk to and about the book. Pushing the button changes the picture when they turn the page, as if they actually made something happen. The older kids are into this physical interaction. They shake the book, scratch the tummy and have fun reading and doing.”
Another very essential lesson for kids with books is learning how to be gentle with them, how to take care of them.
Mike is a burly guy with a beard and a twinkle in his eyes. He grew up in St. Louis, a fan of reading. “I liked to use my imagination with toys.”
He also grew up playing ice hockey and lacrosse, playing with a local team. When he was 10 he learned to play a bass guitar and by the time he was 15, he played in bands at clubs. He says at the time, music groups were not all that popular among his peers, but he played anyway, for fun, not for a career.
After high school, he enrolled at Lindenwood University in St. Charles in a business program, which he learned wasn’t “his thing.”
During his college years he played for and then coached Lacrosse and discovered he liked teaching and working with kids. Mike began thinking about a career in education, which wasn’t surprising as there were three teachers already in his family.
Following his new course, he enrolled in the University of Missouri in St. Louis where he earned his BA in elementary education. He graduated in 2009 and took a year off to go back to his first love, music.
“I was young with no responsibilities and got a job making pizza. I loved making pizza, throwing the dough up in the air while the kids watched through the open kitchen. They loved to watch me toss the dough. While I worked there, I also looked for a teaching job.”
Mike was hired by Most Holy Trinity where he taught science to 4,5,6,7th and eighth graders. He moved onto to the St. Louis Public School District where taught fourth and fifth graders, his favorite age group.
“They are old enough to be independent and you can speak to them; they are capable of listening like an adult.”
Mike says he has learned that when interacting with children one should not change who they are because they have children. “Help your kids become productive, well-rounded people, capable, profound individuals. Treat them as individuals and foster independence, but if they need cuddling, do that too.”
After a few years in St. Louis, Mike came to Nederland with a band called Alabaster Brown and played at the Pioneer Inn and the Stage Stop, because one of the band members was friends with local musician, Vince Herman. Mike like Nederland so much that he moved here in 2005 with his wife and children. He says the competition for teachers was so heavy, he couldn’t get hired by the Boulder Valley School District.
He enrolled his children in the Aspen Grove preschool where he began picking up shifts, eventually becoming a full-time teacher. Last year, in the fall, Mike began working on his master’s degree in Early Literacy through the Boulder Journey School. It was difficult working and going to school. He finished school at the beginning of August 2017 and when he saw the opening for the library kids’ services, he jumped on it. After putting together an application, he mailed it to Librarian Jay Mann and then worried when he didn’t hear from him right away. About a month later, they set up an interview and discovered they had similar education philosophies.
Mike was hired and began work on August 21, 2017. Last Thursday was his third story time session. He is excited to begin working with the after-school programs, the board games, the Crazy Eight math program, the ninja training which uses shapes and the enrichment programs.
“The programs mostly expand on what the kids do in school and we have fun. We will work with robotics and electronics, linking activities to STEM education. I am part of a cool group of teachers at the Nederland Middle Senior High School planning projects for the older kids, helping them become as engaged and beneficial as possible.
Mike says that as a teacher and coordinator he must have things in place, that the kids are just getting out of school and he has to be organized and prepared, trying to align projects with the school standards.
It is Mike’s goal to develop other programs; for example, getting grants to offer a Lego program, to put together a summer reading program maybe with a travel theme. He also wants to start a 1,000 books before Kindergarten program where each child listens to a book a day for three years.
“Every child should hear the language, which will make them more prepared for reading on their own. It’s okay to read a book over and over again because the child becomes familiar with and understands the words he or she hears. Kids are capable of forming thought processes from the books, learning skills for life. We have to adapt and have a set of skills we can apply broadly, help kids feel successful.”
Living and working where he lives is a dream come true for Mike. He feels fortunate and lucky. He says his music is in limbo for now, although he does play in open jams in the area. He also dreams of someday starting a Lacrosse Club for local children.
(Originally published in the September 14, 2017 print edition of The Mountain-Ear.)