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Becky Mahaffey reads Mary Hoffman's "Boundless Grace" to her daughter, Sydney Mahaffey, on Thursday during family reading night at Sangamon Valley Primary School. The school district this year moved to attendance centers, grouping all the children of certain grades together in the same building. 

HARRISTOWN — Almost everything is new in the Sangamon Valley schools this year.

They've changed to attendance centers, grouping students of the same age together with preschool through second grade Harristown, third through fifth and the middle school in Illiopolis, and the high school still in Niantic. The primary school has a new principal, Bethany Wellbaum.

Parent Andrew Martin couldn't be happier with the changes.

“This setup has really heightened the educational experience for these kids,” Martin said. “It has taken it to a whole new level. We have mainstreamed our education to where it needs to be. I am really excited as a parent and as a resident of this great district. We are doing amazing things.”

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Kindergartner Emily Soerensen pets a Dutch rabbit named "Blade" on Thursday during family reading night, designed to welcome parents and students to the new school year. 

Consolidating the grades in the same building allows teachers to talk and kids to work together, he said. Martin said he can see the positive results in conversations at home with his twin boys, Owen and Noah.

The second-graders haven't had one complaint, he said. The family lives in Illiopolis and the boys ride the bus to school, and Martin said they love that, too.

The primary school held a family reading night on Thursday to welcome parents and kids and get the year off to a literary start. The theme was “Wild About Books,” based on a children's book of the same name by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Marc Brown. The story is about a girl who finds the perfect book for each animal, even a waterproof copy of “Harry Potter” for the otter.

In keeping with that theme, Scovill Mobile Zoo was on hand to let the children touch some live creatures, like a box turtle, and the group read “Wild About Books” together as one of the activities.

Title I reading teacher Kim Quinlan said she'd had to split her time between the Harristown and Illiopolis buildings until this year, and it's much more efficient to have the grades consolidated.

“We bring families in to come together to read, and learn,” she said. “We've got a room where we're going to talk about bedtime stories and how that's important, and what you can do at bedtime with your stories, and they have books in there to read.”

The children also received their Reading is Fundamental books on Thursday, so each one had a book of his or her own to take home.

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A student touches the coral snake brought by Scovill Mobile Zoo to the family reading night at Sangamon Valley Primary School. 

One of the reasons for the attendance centers was to allow teachers of the same grades to be able to collaborate, Wellbaum said, which was difficult to do when they were in separate buildings.

“They used to do family reading night as a district-wide (event),” Wellbaum said. “We're just doing it as a primary building, focusing on reading for pre-K through 2.”

Laying that foundation early is important, she said, and getting families into the building early in the year is, too. Open house isn't until spring, when the children will have finished work to show to their parents, so family reading night offers the opportunity for parents and children to get together early in the year as well.

“I came in here and shook things up, I guess,” Wellbaum said, laughing.

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Herald & Review.

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