Read Across America Cat-a-Van: Week 1
Bringing the joy of reading to schools in Texas and Oklahoma
Life in the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas is relatively quiet. It’s a family-oriented area, where much of the excitement surrounds local football or basketball games. On Monday, Feb. 24, however, students from two elementary schools in Hidalgo County received a special treat from local, state and national guests, who read books from the beloved author Dr. Seuss. The event was part of the 17th anniversary of the National Education Association’s award-winning Read Across America literacy program....Read More.
Laredo Schools Welcome NEA’s Read Across America!
Students at Milton Elementary in Laredo, Tex., put on their hats to read with The Cat. Photo by Jati Lindsay
NEA’s Read Across America Cat-a-Van tour made stops at two elementary schools in Laredo, Tex. on Tuesday, February 25, where special guests read to hundreds of students who donned the famous red and white stovepipe hat.
The first stop on the Laredo leg of the tour was to Milton Elementary School. The school, according to kindergarten teacher Anna Laura Peña, has been celebrating NEA’s reading program for nearly two decades. “I’ve been here for 20 years and it’s been getting better and better each year…and to have NEA’s Read Across America here shows our students that reading is important.”
At Muller, students, staff, and parents went to the max to ensure Dr. Seuss was well represented. Hallways were decorated with truffula trees, creative pre-K students used their hand prints to paint the much-loved Lorax, along with Thing 1 and Thing 2, and parents decorated the venue for the day’s event.
Each school received a $500 check for its school library, courtesy of the program's 2014 sponsor, Renaissance Dental.
Muller’s school librarian, Alejandra Garza says, “I’m ecstatic! Our kids, teachers, and school staff are so grateful of the support we’ve received and I can’t wait to get those new books for the library!”
Greg Johnson, executive committee member of NEA, served as a guest reader at both schools and was welcomed by local dignitaries, from school district superintendents and board members to elected officials. Rita Haecker, president of Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA); Noel Candelaria, vice president of TSTA; and Rene De la Viña, Laredo United TSTA/NEA were also a part of the day’s event.
NEA’s Read Across America Focuses on Good Oral Health and Reading Skills
NEA’s Read Across America Cat-a-Van tour rolled into San Antonio, Tex. on Wednesday, February 26, to give the gift of reading to hundreds of students at Spicewood and Vestal elementary schools. Students were revved up for day’s events, too!
Second-graders Valerie Vasquez and Eliana Arce could hardly contain their excitement as they waited for local dignitaries and association leaders to kick off the event. “Thing 2 gave me a hat,” Vasquez declared, referring to the red and white stovepipe hats. Arce shouted back, “I like a lot of books—Green Eggs and Ham is my favorite!”
At Vestal, students received a special flash dance performance by area high school students who dressed as different Dr. Seuss characters, from the Lorax to a student in a cap and gown, which was inspired by the book Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Presenting the $500 check to Vestal Elementary's library. Photo by Jati Lindsay
NEA and its sponsor, Renaissance Dental, shared with students the important message of good oral health, too. “We know there’s a link between oral health and student achievement,” says Jeff Kolesar, vice president of Renaissance Dental. “We want to make sure kids are in school every day so this sponsorship makes sense.”
The central message to students is expressed through a formula: “2 x 2 + 20 = good oral health and literacy habits.” The equation represents children brushing for two minutes, two times a day, plus reading for 20 minutes each day—for a daily total of 24 minutes, all focused on developing good oral health and reading skills.
Each school received a check for $500 for its library. Students also received their own copy of The Cat in the Hat, along with other goodies, such as a tooth brush and a two-minute hourglass timer.
Maury Koffman, NEA’s executive committee member served as a guest reader at both schools. Other dignitaries included state and local association leaders, as well as local school district officials from the Southwest and Harlandale Independent School Districts.
Read Across America Stops in Austin
Renaissance Dental CEO Rob Mulligan with enthusiastic Read Across America participants. Photo by Jati Lindsay
Day four of NEA’s Read Across America tour took the Cat-a-Vans to two schools in Austin on Thursday, February 27. Students from Metz and Hillcrest elementary schools gave national, state, and local association leaders, as well as school district and community leaders, a big Texas welcome. Austin was the last stop in the Lone State before the tour made its way to Oklahoma.
Special guest Rob Mulligan, chief executive officer of Renaissance Dental, led students from each school in the “Reading and Brushing Oath.” With hands raised high in the air, a chorus of excited students, pledged, “I promise to reach each day and each night and I promise to brush to keep my teeth white....”
NEA teamed with Renaissance Dental after reports showed that American students miss 51 million hours of school every year because of oral health problems. In fact, tooth decay continues to be the single most common chronic childhood illness—about five times more common than asthma.
The school visits wrapped up with Kevin Gilbert, NEA’s executive committee member, along with TSTA President Rita Haecker and TSTA Vice President Noel Candelaria, presenting the schools’ librarians with a $500 check. The funds will go toward the purchase of Spanish-language books.
Rolling Into Oklahoma
After covering almost 800 miles of ground, NEA’s Read Across America Cat-a-Van Tour 1 capped off a week’s worth of reading celebrations on Friday in Oklahoma with two school visits.
Steed Elementary School in Midwest City was the first stop of the Oklahoma tour.
Firefighters from Midwest City Fire Department Ladder 2 passed out the red and white stovepipe hats to nearly 400 students, who received a special reading from David Tjaden, NEA’s Student Program chair. Tjaden, who represents 60,000 student members at colleges and universities studying to become educators, read from The Cat in the Hat.
Special guest readers included Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, and Roland Branham, officer for the Midwest City Police Department. The pair read from Green Eggs and Ham.
Branham was excited to join in Read Across America. “Usually, when we get ‘called’ it’s because someone is having a bad day, but being a part of events like this is great because we’re able to share with the community in good times.”
In the afternoon, the tour made the 40-mile trek to Horace Mann Elementary School in the city of Shawnee. Former First Lady Kim Henry served as a special guest reader.
“It’s very important to bring reading events like Read Across America into schools. There’s no more important gift than literacy,” she says, adding that reading is the one skill set that can take students through school with a tremendous boost.
For Hampton, an elementary school teacher with more than 30 years of experience, Read Across America helps students develop a life-long love of reading by making it fun, which currently seems to be a missing ingredient for many students.
An Oklahoma law that was enacted in 1998 is now triggering some angst among students, parents, and educators. The Reading Sufficiency Act requires that every third-grader within the state’s public school system take a reading test come April. If they don’t pass, students will be held back from entering the fourth grade.
“By focusing on high-stakes testing, Oklahoma has taken the fun out of reading,” says Hampton. “We must put it back in for our students.”
And fun was most certainly had at both elementary schools, where students were visited by the mischievous Thing 1 and Thing 2, who tugged at a jumbo-sized check worth $500 before presenting it to the schools. The elementary schools plan to purchase additional books for its media centers.
Tonya Fenimore, a representative of Renaissance Dental, was also on hand to promote good reading habits and clean teeth. “If you can’t come to school because your tooth is hurting you’re going to have trouble learning…and it’s important that [students] come to school every day,” she says.
—by Brenda Álvarez