Two Pendleton School District Title 1 employees who regularly give the gift of reading to their students will each in turn be gifted Wednesday with a Crystal Apple award from the Umatilla-Morrow Education Service District.

Award recipient Virginia Briggs may be a bit uncomfortable in the limelight, but she's right at home working with children through her job as a Title 1 reading assistant at West Hills Elementary School.

"I love watching children that come in not liking reading and really get hooked on it," Briggs said. "That is a great reward right there, just turning them on to it."

Day in and day out, Briggs - a 16-year veteran with the Pendleton School District - works with small groups of students, mostly those who have been identified as reading below their grade level.

Carol Aldrich, Title 1 teacher who has worked with Briggs for the last seven or eight years, described Briggs as having a keen sense of humor who often spends her free time developing fun games for the kids to convey lessons.

"She'll get on the Internet and she'll look for things," Aldrich said. "She truly enjoys working with the kids, and she's so faithful and diligent to do the best for them."

"I think a lot of it is just reading to them, reading with expression," Briggs said.

Briggs also said it's important to get children engaged in understanding and thinking about the story.

"They can almost become a part of it. It's almost like painting a picture with words," she said. "The picture they start making in their minds makes it more real to them."

Award recipient Fran Fife, 24-year Title 1 teacher at Washington Elementary School, said the small-group interaction with students was a personal "forte."

"I like getting a more personal relationship with kids," she said. "Then I can really see what their problems are."

Fife also said she appreciates getting to work with the same students, first-grade onward.

"So often when they come to come me they don't know their letters and sounds," Fife said. "I get to go along with them, so I get to see their progress over the years."

In addition to her daily responsibilities, Fife said she enjoyed being able to participate each year in the family reading night, an event that promotes families reading together on their own time.

"They just bring blankets and pillows and spread them all over the gym," Fife said.

"She always has high expectations of herself and high expectations of her children," said fellow Title 1 teacher Amy Mullin, adding Fife's efforts yield success with her students. "She just has all the pieces in place that make for an excellent teacher."

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