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Classroom Connection

Mary Robbin

With fun to have and lives to touch, NEA's Read Across America means so much!

Amanda Milner was a freshman at Elizabethtown College when her mom, a high school teacher in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, asked her to dress up as the Cat in the Hat for an event for NEA’s Read Across America.

Now a senior and state president of the Student Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), Milner can still recall the delighted faces of the kids who showed up to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday.

 So, it’s not surprising that last winter, as Southern region president for Student PSEA, Milner organized a similar extravaganza full of books, crafts, and music.

More than 50 students from five colleges and one high school volunteered for the event, which brought hundreds of children and parents to Strawberry Square, a local retail complex.

The effort joined countless activities nationwide, as more than 49 million adults and children flocked to schools, libraries, community centers, malls, and parks for festivities on (or around) the March 2 birthdays. Launched in 1998, NEA’s Read Across America (RAA) has evolved from a book- and fun-filled day into a yearlong program to promote reading, says Anita Merina, national coordinator for RAA.

“For college students who organize such an event, it’s a great opportunity to see the tremendous difference one activity can make for a community and to see the positive impact of the profession they’re entering.”

To draw in the crowd, Milner and student volunteers blanketed schools in a four-county area with fliers. For entertainment, they invited choirs and jazz bands from local elementary, middle, and high schools. An array of people, from local news anchors to Milner’s mom, read their favorite books to kids who sat on carpet squares donated by the mall. It wasn’t surprising the event made the TV news that evening.

The festival, like others across the country, also featured a book-collection drive, netting more than 1,000 titles for a hospital, shelter, and local Ronald McDonald House.

In the middle of the country, volunteers from the Student NEA chapter at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota, promoted both reading and family togetherness at their RAA carnival, which drew 300 children and their parents to the campus last March.

The children read books, received ones to keep, played Seuss-inspired games, and downed a Cat in the Hat birthday cake, says elementary education major Valerie Reeves, who co-chaired the event with fellow Student member Jami Kuta.

“The kids really treasure the books we gave them,” says Reeves. “One little girl told me she reads hers every night.”

Meanwhile, Missouri children enjoyed playing “pin the hat on the cat” at a festival organized by members of the Student NEA chapter at Southeast Missouri State University, says Jackie Metz, chapter president at the time.

 Turnout was lower than the previous year so Student members surveyed parents on whether the event should continue. “We got a great response,” says Metz. “One parent said, ‘There’s no way you can’t have it.’” So, before she graduated last year [2005], Metz made sure there was someone in line to chair the event. And, she’s planning to go back and help out.

Even a snowstorm couldn’t keep almost 300 children and parents from heading to the gym at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, there won’t be anybody here to eat the cake,’” says Kristen Bowen, chapter president.  Happy to be proven wrong, Bowen and her cohorts served the sweets and whipped up green eggs and ham, all donated by a local grocery store.

Youngsters read books and played games as they moved through centers marked by large cardboard stand-ups of favorite Dr. Seuss books. It’s an annual event that everyone in this mountainous region—from faculty families to the neediest parents and kids—looks forward to, says Bowen. 

Tips for a Grinchless Event

  • Apply for a grant from NEA, your college, or a local community foundation to cover your expenses.
  • Plan at least three to six months in advance. Your event doesn’t have to occur on March 2, especially when it falls on a weekday. Be sure your event doesn’t conflict with your college’s or the local schools’ spring breaks, since families may be out of town.
  • Blanket local elementary schools and shopping centers with fliers or posters. Ask your local newspaper and radio and TV stations to run free ads or public service announcements.
  • Solicit local supermarkets, bakeries, and restaurants for food donations. After all, you can’t have a birthday party without a cake!
  • Ask local celebrities to appear as guest readers and use local school choirs and bands for entertainment.
  • Get teens involved by organizing poetry readings or poetry slams.
  • Organize a book donation drive as part of your event. It’s a great way to get local businesses and your entire campus involved.
  • Ask local bookstores to donate gift certificates to give as event prizes.
  • More ideas


Read All About It

Looking for a great read? Then join the NEA Student Program book club. It’s simple to do, fun, and guaranteed to make you smarter.


Just stop by NEA’s online community to find out the name of the latest book everyone is reading and to see what your fellow members have to say about it.

 To get started, visit go to the NEA Student Program  Web site, click the link for discussion boards, and check out the latest in the Student Program forum.

Maximize with Minis

Soon-to-be graduates anxious about finding jobs after college are getting some help from the Illinois Education Association’s Student Program.

At the end of each year students can maximize their exposure to potential employers by participating in a “mini-résumé” project, which allows them to distribute their information to the more than 1,000 superintendents throughout the state.

Program Director Donna Manering says about 300 student program members take part in the project each year and some receive as many as 24 contacts in response, often from school districts where they didn’t even apply.

“This is a good way for us to let them know about the organization, to help students get interviews and ultimately to have students that are committed to the IEA-NEA in positions within the schools in Illinois,” Manering says.

The IEA distributes the blank application to graduating student members at the end of each year. Students are asked to provide information about their extracurricular activities, community involvement, leadership experiences, and involvement in the IEA-NEA Student Program, as well as respond to an essay question.

For the last two years, mini-résumés have been sent to superintendents on a CD-ROM, which Manering says is a good way to get the word out about the program and its activities.

For those concerned about how their membership in the NEA might affect future employers, Manering says, “superintendents want to hire students that are involved and committed to education, and being an IEA-NEA member lets them know that students are already involved in our organization."

From the NEA Professional Library

Why Portfolios

Teaching jobs are highly competitive, and creative ways of presenting yourself are essential! The following scenario shows how imperative it is that, as a prospective teacher, you are able to demonstrate your competence to others in concrete ways.

Katie Smith sat at the end of a large conference table surrounded by interviewers, all of whom were administrators or veteran teachers in the school district to which she was applying. Each of them had in front of them a brochure, called “Portfolio at a Glance,” which Katie had prepared and mailed to the district personnel office a week ago.

This brochure briefly summarized several of the documents in Katie’s professional portfolio—her notebook full of documents as well as her electronic portfolio, which contained the same documents in computer files.

As Katie answered interview questions, the interviewers passed her portfolio around the table, examining documents and making notes. After the interview the personnel superintendent said, “Miss Smith, your portfolio was unique because it enabled you to support all your responses with concrete examples of your knowledge and experience.

Other candidates for this position had portfolios—even electronic ones—but yours was the only one organized around national teaching standards to show your capabilities in the teaching behaviors that we think are important. We are all very much impressed. We think you'll make a fine addition to our district teaching faculty!”

From How to Develop a Professional Portfolio:A Manual for Teachers (Third Edition) by Dorothy M. Campbell, Pamela Bondi Cignetti, et al. For a copy, call 800-229-4200

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