Malletts Bay School students listened attentively last Friday as notable figures from around town made a guest appearance on their classroom’s story rug to celebrate annual World Read Aloud Day.

Celebrity readers included Colchester police Chief Jennifer Morrison, Porters Point School and Union Memorial School principals, a handful of St. Michael’s College athletes and an Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences student.

Fifth-graders in Dawn Buswell’s class said they enjoy a dedicated read aloud time almost every day as they eat their snack.

Lately, they’ve been listening to Kate DiCamillo’s “The Tale of Despereaux.” With a simultaneous groan, the kids told the Sun their teacher frequently stops the chapter book story on a gripping cliffhanger.

Their reasons for loving read aloud time were varied. Several said they like to close their eyes and picture the story. One said she liked the way Buswell used her voice to give personality to the characters.

Another youngster noted an obvious benefit to the snack time oration: “You can’t really read while you’re eating.”

MBS principal and Friday’s event coordinator Julie Benay said the benefits don’t stop there. This year marks the school’s first time participating, but the international holiday has existed for several years, she said.

Schools often focus on silent, independent reading as a tool to improve and measure fluency, but Benay said research shows kids often comprehend a text more fully when the words are read out loud.

Students from area colleges read aloud to students at Malletts Bay School last Friday as part of World Read Aloud Day.

Statistics provided by the World Read Aloud Day organizers suggest “poorly-literate” individuals are less likely to participate in democratic processes and have fewer chances to fully exercise their civil rights.

And according to the latest United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 758 million adults (two-thirds of them women) lack basic reading and writing skills.

Benay said families might often read to their children through grade 2 and then begin to phase out the habit. But the recent popularity influx in audiobooks and podcasts proves even grown-ups see a benefit to hearing rather than reading their material, she said.

“I find, even as an adult, that I will often comprehend the text differently — maybe not more thoroughly — but certainly differently, when I’m listening to audiobooks,” Benay said. “You’re never too old to be read to.”

Benay said hosting guest readers provided an additional learning opportunity, allowing students to interact with members of the community they might otherwise not meet.

Reading aloud can also act as an equalizer, Benay said. Students who may not yet be able to comprehend complex sentences on their own, for example, can still enjoy a publication with their peers.

“Their listening comprehension is often way stronger than when they have to have so many parts of their brain engaged with decoding the text and all the other aspects of reading,” Benay said.

This school year marks Benay’s final year at the helm of MBS, but she said she’s confident the event’s success will prompt others to continue the practice after she departs.

“That emotional connection to reading is enhanced when you have a loved one reading to you,” Benay said.