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Read Across America celebrations a mainstay at area schools

Read Across America celebrations a mainstay at area schools

BRIGANTINE — Mary Beth Fine was in the middle of reading “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” to a group of kindergarten and first-grade students when the big black Cat peeked his imposing red and white striped hat out from a doorway.

As one student caught a glimpse of the mischievous feline, whispers and chatter erupted among the students, excited by the guest appearance of the beloved Dr. Seuss character.

Visits by the Cat in the Hat, sponsored by the New Jersey Education Association, are now commonplace among schoolwide celebrations of Read Across America as the event that promotes reading has grown to immense popularity since its inception in 1998.

“At this point now, it’s almost like a given and an expectation,” said Egg Harbor Township Superintendent Kim Gruccio, who added her district is “all in.”

Read Across America celebrates famed children’s author Dr. Seuss’ birthday on March 2. Many schools host week-long celebrations. In classrooms throughout South Jersey, guest readers like police officers, mayors, parents and business leaders visit, and schools hold themed days and activities to coincide with Seuss’ characters.

The National Education Association writes on its website that the program “focuses on motivating children and teens to read through events, partnerships, and reading resources that are about everyone, for everyone.”

On Thursday, Fine, the librarian for the Atlantic County Library in Brigantine, was reading “The Giving Tree” and “One Fish” as part of Brigantine Community School’s Read Across America activities, which continue through March 6.

Joann Scannell, Brigantine’s district reading specialist, said Read Across America enhances the school’s goal to create lifelong readers.

“Theodore Geisel (Seuss’ real name) has really good books (and) rhymes that just bring kids into reading,” Scannell said.

She said they are good for early reading instruction, too, because of the repetitiveness. Scannell said that in “Green Eggs and Ham” there are 50 sight words, which are words students learning to read are encouraged to know by memory because they appear often in text.

“It’s fun. It’s like listening to a song and making your own music,” she said.

In most schools in South Jersey, Read Across America has become a celebration that brings in other subjects and community members.

“Every year we look forward to it around this time,” Gruccio said. “It’s so neat to see the police chief, board members, business leaders, parents come in. Those folks are some great role models for the students.”

For parents, teachers and administrators reading Dr. Seuss to their children also evokes nostalgia because the stories are the same ones they may have read as a child.

Gruccio said having young students who are enthusiastic about reading promotes academic excellence later in school.

“Reading is important,” she said. “At some point, usually around third grade, you’re reading to learn.”

Themed days vary by school and examples include Silly Sock Day, Wacky Wednesday or Diversity Day. In many districts, parents and children are invited back to school at night during the week for a family reading night or guest author visit.

Darla Salay, principal of the Hammonton Early Childhood Education Center, said they, like many schools, use older students to model positive reading behaviors.

“It is great for our younger students to see high school students as reading role models. It’s a concrete way to show the importance of life-long reading,” Salay said.

“Even our oldest students are still entertained by the familiar songs and lines they once learned as first graders years ago,” added Jennifer Brittin, librarian at the Warren E. Sooy Elementary School in Hammonton.

Judy Bonato, librarian at Millville’s Rieck Avenue School said Read Across America is so successful, especially in elementary school, because of the simplicity of Dr. Seuss’ books.

“The illustrations are so much fun to look at and just reading them makes anyone smile,” she said, which makes children enthusiastic to read.

Contact: 609-272-7251

Twitter @clairelowe

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Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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