She loved to be read stories, now she’s passing it on

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Columbia Falls High School senior Kyla Johnston reads to Ember (left) and Alise Reppe at the community dinner in Hungry Horse last week. Johnston recently received the state-level Prudential Spirit of Community Award for her efforts. (Jeremy Weber photo)

Kyla Johnston had no idea that her love of reading would help pay for her college education someday.

A senior at Columbia Falls High School, Johnston was a recent recipient of the Prudential Spirit of Community Award for her efforts reading to children at the monthly community dinners at the Canyon School in Hungry Horse. Each month, Johnston not only reads to children after they have finished eating, she also provides books so the kids can add to or establish their own home libraries, and is working on raising money for more books to help kids keep up with their reading in the summer.

“One of my favorite things as a child was being read to, and I would like to share this tradition with them,” she said. “I would also like to bring in a few younger high schoolers, in hopes that reading at community dinners will continue.”

Created in 1995 by Prudential Insurance and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the Spirit of Community program honors middle level and high school students for outstanding service to others at the local, state and national level and has honored more than 125,000 young people who’ve made a difference, inspiring countless others to consider how they might contribute to their communities.

As a state-level honoree, Johnston will receive a $1,000 award, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense paid trip with a parent to Washington, D.C. in May to be honored for her achievement.

The project came into being as part of Johnston’s independent studies class at the high school this year, but only after her first planned project fell through. Knowing that there were Spanish-speaking students at her school struggling to communicate with their teachers and classmates, she decided to create a bilingual story hour and homework help session for students just learning English “so that they feel welcome and supported.” Johnston worked with the school’s Spanish teachers to develop a plan for the program and thought everything was a go, until she found that she could not find a suitable location to serve as a host. Johnston said she tried everything, from the local public library to area churches, but liability issues kept the project from getting off the ground.

“It was surprising and a bit disappointing,” Johnston said. “I was not expecting it to be so hard to find a location, but it worked out in the end.”

After hearing about the Canyon community dinners at church, Johnston began reading at them in November. The holidays gave her a chance to share a number of classic stories with the children, but she says now she would like to share some of her favorites, including the 1969 classic, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” by Eric Carle.

“I read a lot of Christmas stories to them over the holidays, but I recently ordered a bunch of the Golden Books that I read as a child so I could share some of my favorite stories with them,” she said.

Johnston said she in considering a future as a lawyer and plans to major in business and political science in college next year. She is still narrowing down her list of schools.

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