Billings teachers share message of endless possibilities through reading

Posted at 11:36 AM, Jan 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-20 13:36:29-05

BILLINGS - As Sandstone Elementary School kindergarten teacher Julie Wilson sounds out words with her students, it's so much more than a classroom exercise.

"Reading is a life-long skill. And it is so important that when these little people come to kindergarten that they have a foundation of learning for reading and other subjects, but reading is the catalyst that gets them through everything. It will take them through life and adventures and bring them to places of success. And you don't have success without failure, and reading is just that process that helps you learn all of that," Wilson said.

In her 39th year of teaching, Wilson knows the power of a young, growing mind.

"I think the biggest thing is building that deep relationship with those kids and letting them know, ‘I'm going to teach you things that might be very hard for you, this might be tricky, but we're going to practice just like when we learn to ride a bike, we do it over and over until we get good at it.’ And so try to relate those real-life experiences they've already had, to all this new information and learning that they're doing," she said.

Sandstone Elementary School kindergarten teacher Julie Wilson

On the other side of Billings, kindergarten teacher Gabby Madden sees those little wheels turning at Central Heights Elementary School.

“One of my favorite things is once they really understand the alphabet and the sounds that the letters make, they then realize, hey, those letters are in words and hey, guess what, I can sound those words out," Madden said.

Using a combination of familiar songs and poems, one strategy teaches students to read words by filling in the blanks to piece it all together.

“If you write them out, or you type them out, they can track and they can read those words with you. And it's just mind-blowing to them that they can then read. And it can really help build those confident readers, those ones that might be a little reluctant or those ones that just don't think they can. And throwing something like that they're familiar with in front of them, it's just amazing to watch their eyes light up,” Madden said.

Central Heights Elementary School kindergarten teacher Gabby Madden

For Madden, passing on this passion for reading is more than a job. It's something instilled in her at a young age. And who better to learn from, than mom.

"We did a lot of reading, you know, the nighttime routine and reading and Gabby always loved books. I would write Gabby notes in her lunch pail, and she loved math, so these little notes would be in there and she started writing me back and she'd solve math problems, and she'd read things to me," Wilson said.

"She just would buy, basically any book that I would want, and when I was younger, I was really into horses, so there's a nice collection of some non-fiction horse books at our house if you ever need some,” Madden said with a laugh.

“She really helped me understand that reading is a lifelong skill at such a young age, and re-reading stories and just getting books in my hand was so important. I was always so excited about learning and reading and I think that transferred over as I was growing up, trying to figure out what I wanted to be. I wanted to make sure I gave that same opportunity to the future," Madden said.

To learn more about how you can help spark the love of literacy in local students, visit

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