Tolefree Reads to Local Elementary Students

Sept. 24, 2010


“Whoa, she’s big!” are the first words uttered when six-foot two-inch, middle blocker for the Kansas Volleyball teams steps foot inside the quaint kindergarten classroom at Pinckney Elementary. The rest of the class watches intently as Tayler Tolefree strides into the room, even towering over the tiny teacher.

Tolefree visited Teresa Hupfauf’s kindergarten class as well as Carol Laskowski’s third grade class September 16 as part of the READ program, which sends KU student-athletes to local elementary schools to read and talk about the importance of school.

“I think it’s important to participate in programs like READ because when you go to the elementary schools, you see that the kids are in awe just because you’re a KU athlete and you can really use that to be a positive influence and encourage them to work hard in school,” Tolefree said.

Tolefree is no stranger to the READ program. She began participating her freshman year. She’s also no stranger to the community. Even before making it past the front desk she had already received a hug from the school’s secretary. Later, Mrs. Laskowski’s shared an anecdote with her class about Tolefree’s love for reading, which Laskowski witnessed first hand when Tolefree’s older sister played volleyball with Laskowskis daughter. Tolefree grew up in Lawrence and attended Lawrence High School. She walked around the school that day a homegrown celebrity.

Only a sophomore, Tolefree already understands the importance of her role as a Jayhawk student-athlete. The impact she has on the community is larger than just her performance on the court and she shares that advice with incoming freshman.

“Their college experience would not be as complete without doing something positive with the many other student-athletes, to represent KU well and make a difference in some small way,” Tolefree said.

After reading Tolefree’s personal favorite, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See,” she fielded questions from the fascinated sea of kindergarten hands.

“What’s your favorite food?”

“How old are you?”

“How big is the bus you ride on?”

“My favorite part about the READ program is when the kids get to ask questions and I try to explain to them what college is like and what it’s like to play a sport, too,” Tolefree said. “It also gets me out of my own world for a little bit and participating in the community.”

Tolefree’s big influence doesn’t just end when she walks off the court. She’s a local inspiration for kids in Lawrence and a role model who has embraced the responsibility. Lawrence youth are lucky to have someone this remarkable to look up to, both literally and figuratively.

– Written by Ally Stanton, Graduate Assistant Student-Athlete Development