Oh, the places you’ll go. If you read, that is.
That was the message faculty, administration, parents, local politicians, and civil servants sent children across West New York and Union City last Friday and throughout the last week as part of their “Read Across America” celebrations. Held every year on the school day closest to March 2. That day is the birthday of author Theodore Seuss Geisel a.k.a. Dr. Seuss. The program strives to motivate students not only to develop their reading skills, but to cultivate a love of reading.
“This day really allows us to make the students aware of how important reading is,” said Nelson Lopez, the principal at Public School 1 in West New York.
The town’s supervisor of literacy for kindergarten through sixth grade, Beth Wolanski, explained that while there are many professions and life paths that students can travel without advanced math or science skills, the same hardly goes for reading.
“You can’t do much if you don’t know how to read,” said Wolanski.
However, she explained that “Read Across America” isn’t all academic.
“It’s also about showing the students that reading is much more than reading what the teacher assigns and then taking a test on it,” she said. “It should be for personal enjoyment as well.”
Juliana Sorto, 6, and Sebastian Arroyave, 5, both kindergartners at P.S. 1, seemed to be getting the message, though they admitted they weren’t quite there yet.
“You can’t do much if you don’t know how to read.” – Beth Wolanski, West New York Supervisor of Literacy
Wolanski also explained that the Read Across America activities throughout the town were interdisciplinary, spanning across multiple academic areas, namely art. At Harry L. Bain Elementary School, students decorated entire hallways in the spirit of their favorite books. One hallway was dedicated to the “Harry Potter” series.
The power of words
West New York Mayor Felix Roque helped hammer the message home when he visited Juliana and Sebastian’s classroom Friday morning to read the class’ favorite book, “The Three Little Pigs.” With a stuffed Cat in the Hat on his lap and a smile on his face, Roque read in both English and Spanish, and expressed his own love of reading to the children.
“Education is a fundamental building block to success,” he said afterward. “I remember coming from Cuba and being in an English as a second language (ESL) class and learning to read in English, and I was able to build a dual career as a physician and soldier.”
He encouraged parents to read with their children at home as well, stating that in addition to helping them in school, parents could form a stronger bond with their young ones.
“I lost myself in [that classroom] for a minute,” he said. “It was like when my son was young and I was reading to him.”
Roque was joined by Commissioner Caridad Rodriguez and Police Director Michael Indri at P.S. 1, while the other commissioners and Superintendent of Schools John Fauta were spread across the town at other schools.
Mayor Stack reads to students
In Union City, Mayor Brian Stack visited Veterans’ Memorial School on Friday, where he was greeted by fifth grader Eddie Hernandez, 10, and third grader Sofia Rodriguez, 9, the respective winners of the school’s King and Queen of Reading contest. The contest was to see how many books students could finish by “Read Across America” today. Between the two of them, Eddie and Sofia read upwards of 30.
Eddie, whose favorite books include “The Jungle Book,” “Dear Mr. Henshaw,” and “Jump Ship to Freedom,” said he enjoyed reading because of the excitement and the action. Sofia, whose favorite book is “Charlotte’s Web,” said she enjoys reading “simply because I like knowing what happens at the end.”
Stack read Seuss’ “Bartholomew and the Oobleck” to a third grade class, and recalled his own days in Union City’s public school system, where he said he enjoyed reading for both homework and pleasure.
Elsewhere in Union City, “Read Across America” was a weeklong celebration. At Colin Powell Elementary School, members of Emerson Middle School’s student council read to kindergartners and first graders last Monday.
“It’s fun to come here and hang out with these kids,” said Emerson’s student council president, Karen Castro, 13. “Hopefully they can learn something from us, but we’re also learning from them.”
Vice President Patricia Escoto, 14, expressed the hope that Emerson’s visit set a positive example for Colin Powell’s students.
“I hope it’s good for them to see that we enjoy reading,” she said.
Special education teacher Erica Cheshire, whose class was one of many paid a visit by Emerson students, echoed Escoto’s sentiment.
“I think it’s really motivational for them to have someone other than their teacher, who’s still a kid, reading to them,” she said.
Fifth grade humanities teacher Jeanette Doody, who organized Colin Powell’s activities throughout the week, said that students are encouraged to read at home, and are sometimes assigned to keep a nightly reading log of their progress.
“We want to make reading an everyday thing in their lives,” she said.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org