In some of the most horrific reports on Russia’s assault and bombings of Ukraine, there emerge scenes of Ukrainian families barricaded in basements and other hideaways, still holding classes with parents reading to even the very youngest. No wars, no pandemic, can stand in the way of children started on a lifetime of learning through books.
Every March in the United States, books and reading are celebrated through the Read Across America program. Two area schools told SNJ Today of their celebrations, grateful that the children can learn in peaceful, at-school settings and wishing the same for kids around the world.
Holly Heights Goes ‘Wild About Reading’
Holly Heights Elementary is no stranger to schoolwide Read Across America celebrations. The official Read Across America program was launched in 1998 and is the “nation’s largest celebration of reading,” according to the official website. Holly Heights has participated in the program—like many other schools in the United States—since that launch date. Recently, the school decided to go the extra mile.
For the past several years, the staff and students at Holly Heights chose their own theme in observance of the weeklong tribute to reading, including a mystery theme during remote learning in 2021 that integrated virtual “mystery reader” sessions and online breakout rooms. The school has also celebrated with a camp theme.
This year the Grade 1 teaching team united to celebrate Read Across America with the theme “Wild About Reading” and took the Holly Heights staff and students on a journey into the jungle. This team was composed of Staci Clark, Nicole Eisenhardt, Susan Murphy, Mary Beth Owens, Jennifer Placendo, and Hollie Smith.
The group of six teachers volunteered their own time to craft theme days (including Animal Print Day and Dress Like a Book Character Day), classroom activities, grant-funded book and bookmark giveaways, and staff appreciation contests supported by the PTSA. The entire school community worked to transform their hallways with handmade decorations and by participating in a door decorating contest.
Every classroom had the opportunity to craft its own reading initiative and choose a student winner to be honored. In gym class, students moved through Dr. Seuss-inspired stations; in the library, they worked on animal puzzles and created “mixed up” chameleons; and a paper snake made of over 2,100 rings stretched from the art room—where students and teacher Any Bingham created it—all the way to the main office.
Perhaps most impressive is the website this team of dedicated teachers created from scratch specifically for the celebration: tinyurl.com/hollyheightsraa2022. This site served as a reference for staff, outlined the activities for the celebration and included student reader videos.
The site also hosted guest reader videos recorded by district staff and special video lessons from the Cape May Zoo created just for Holly Heights. Students were treated to “virtual” animal visits from Lenny the owl, Spiderman the alligator, and Wally the camel.
“Staci Clarke brings Read Across America to life with her great ideas,” said Mary Beth Owens of her fellow Grade 1 teacher, who everyone agreed acted as a leader throughout the process. As Holly Heights celebrated the final day of “Wild About Reading,” it is safe to say that the program was a wild success.
Pajama Party at Dallago Preschool
The Vineland Education Association, through a FAST grant, hosted a virtual and in-person at-school Dallago Preschool Pajama Party on March 4 to celebrate Read Across America Week. There were 311 students and their family members in attendance at the virtual pajama party concert, as well as many Vineland Education Association member volunteers. Students and their families sang and moved to the music of performer, Yosi.
Throughout the week leading up to this event, students and families joined virtual guest readers in their Google classrooms. Bedtime stories were read by Association members as well as Vineland Public Library, and members of the Vineland community. All students received bedtime snacks to enjoy at home compliments of the Vineland Education Association FAST grant.
As part of the Vineland Education Association FAST grant, Dallago students received a copy of the board book Silly Lullaby. This book is the fourth in Lena’s Library Legacy in memory of Dallago student Evangeline “Lena” Tietjen.
Students also received craft items, courtesy of the Vineland Education Association FAST grant. Additionally, through the National Pajama Program every student received a new pair of pajamas to have for the Pajama Party.