By: Christine Weimer
Have you ever met one of those people who make you wonder how they manage to seem so happy all the time? Those high-spirited, lively people whose enthusiasm for life never seems to waiver? I met one of those people in elementary school. With a positive charisma that was fun to be around, Nikki DeVito was a classmate of mine who always had a smile on her face. This continued on through high school, where it became clear that Nikki needed to use that contagious energy to help others. She knew it too, as she went on to become a teacher.
Nikki obtained her bachelor’s degree at Long Island University with her certification in Childhood Education 1-6. She continued on to receive her master’s degree at Touro College where her TESOL license was earned. But this is not just a story about a woman with an upbeat attitude on life who became a teacher. I’ve known Nikki for 20 years now, and I think it is safe to say that she was always meant to make a greater impact. And she is. And it is noteworthy.
“I always knew I was meant to be a teacher. It’s as simple as that,” Nikki explained. “I knew I wanted to make a difference in every single one of my students’ lives.” Nikki is currently a 6th grade ELA teacher at Hawtree Creek Middle School in South Ozone Park, New York. Though she’s been teaching for six years now, this is her first year working with the children at this school. She says that HCMS believes, “the best pathway to academic success involves reading.”
Nikki gives much credit to the school she works for. She says ,“Hawtree Creek Middle School has an amazing program being implemented. It’s an independent reading program that requires students to read two novels each marking period. The goal is to encourage a love for reading.” She expressed to me that the ELA team at her school is constantly discussing ways to further develop their students’ passion for reading, as well as inspiring them to reflect on what they read. Every week students create Thought Logs. They’re used for students to write about what they read and “express themselves and make connections to the books they pick up.”
But what’s more, is that DeVito is not just teaching literacy to her students with the program being applied. She started a group for her students she calls “6th Grade Bookworms.” Her hope is that this program will help build her classroom library, ultimately allowing students to read more independently. “I want my students to read because they love to, not because they have to. Many students of mine come from low-income families, so opportunities for new books are scarce for them. I want to make it as easy as possible for them to find books they’ll love to read.”
Nikki says that students and their parents have been “extremely grateful” for the books that have been donated, as well as the ones DeVito has gone out of her way to personally purchase for them. Though she has created a page with Donor Choose (linked below) to collect donations to assist in growing her library, she is amazed at how many parents and students, despite their financial situations, have donated books as well.
“Seeing my students’ love for reading grow has been the biggest reward for this project,” says DeVito. She told me that there were many students that expressed in the beginning that they “hated reading.” But what she’s found, is that it is not about a distain for literacy, but about taking the extra time to connect with her students to figure out what they like to read. “I believe students will love to read if they find something that interests them,” she expressed to me. She says she did not develop her passion for reading until a bit later in life when she began seeking books that sparked her interest. She noted that it is the same problem for the majority of her students.
As an avid reader and bookworm, I would have loved to have had a Ms. DeVito growing up. She is not just a teacher assigning literature, but a woman striving to connect with kids in a way that makes them take this passion for reading with them when they walk out the door. It touches my heart to see these children read with ease and enthusiasm because of the way Nikki has worked to develop a relationship with them for the love of books.
I asked Nikki about the improvements she’s seen in her students since kicking-off her “6th Grade Bookworms” and appreciated her response immensely. “I am not looking to see if their test scores go up in March. I am looking to see students passionate about what they’re reading. So many students have already reached, or surpassed, our school’s goal for the number of independent reading novels that were required to be read by June.” Wow! Whether you are an avid reader or not, we all can recall lagging through elementary school books, bored and just needing to achieve the bare minimum required by teachers. But with Ms. DeVito on their side, this attitude on classroom reading is changing.
“I have never had students who were so eager to get their hands on new books and invested in reading. I laugh because I feel more like a librarian than a teacher at times. Students are constantly checking out or returning books, asking for recommendations. It adds to my workload, but I enjoy seeing my students eager to get into a book,” Nikki says.
What Nikki is doing is not just important to us as parents and readers, but to all of us who want to see the next generation of our society enthusiastic about literacy in hopes of creating a more open-minded world. I have learned so much about myself and others through reading, and it is apparent that what Ms. DeVito is doing with her class promotes that type of long-term encouragement. As our good friend Dr. Seuss once says, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
Nikki DeVito currently lives on Long Beach with her fiancé and two dogs. When she is not changing students’ lives one book at a time, she can be found reading, baking, and exploring her passion for photography.
If there’s one thing to take away from Nikki’s journey, I hope it is that literacy can be promoted to any young mind with the right intent. I’d ask that you please visit Nikki’s Donor Choose page here, so that you may be apart of the program that promotes reading for the next generation. If you cannot afford a small donation at this time, please reach out to me if you have any books you’d be willing to donate to her classroom. We’d love to see what you may be able to offer her students. Let’s help Ms. DeVito continue to encourage these students. I know I am anxious to see where it takes them.
Thank you Nikki, for being a pillar to our children. I am proud to know you.
Follow Nikki’s 6th Grade Bookworms on Instagram, here to keep up with their journey.
Once again, here is the link to donate to her class.
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