Celebrating a Community of Diverse Readers

We traditionally send students to school so they can learn to read, write and do arithmetic. But rarely do we stop and examine “What is the real value of reading?” Of course, reading enables our students to grow up and pursue careers in their chosen fields of interest. However, here at Parker we believe that reading has more intrinsic value than as just a means to an end. Reading enriches our students’ lives in the here and now by developing their language skills, exposing them to new worlds and ideas, and letting their imaginations run wild. That is why, every year, we chose to celebrate our students’ love of reading with our annual Read Across America Day.
Read Across America Day is a true celebration of literacy. Students delight in gathering in the morning to see the clever and artful costumes that their peers have pulled together. During a typical year, we would celebrate RAAD with author visits, a fairytale puppet show, and other large group activities. However, this year, each class got creative with their own literary endeavors, and we also enjoyed a whole-school costume parade.
Our morning started with lively greetings all around and much excitement about what costumes each child was wearing. In the lower school, students got right down to business sharing favorite books. Meanwhile, our 5th graders performed a Reader’s Theatre and then participated in a fairytale mock trial (DID Humpty Dumpty fall, or was he pushed???).
Throughout the day, students also joined together in various groups to enjoy reading. Our PreK stuck together as individual cohorts, listening to stories shared by their teachers and sharing their own stories that inspired their costumes. In our lower school, the Kindergarten was thrilled to have multiple “Mystery Readers” visit, and Leigh and Suzi even swapped classes to read a story to each other’s group. This afternoon, our 1-2 and 3-4 classes partnered up to share some stories. Later our lower school met with their middle school buddies, a HUGE highlight for everyone! We were also treated to a sneak peak of our upcoming musical as all our 8th graders dressed in costume for the day, making a tremendous splash at our parade.
As a final, special way of honoring this day of literacy, Parker students also extended their RAAD celebration to encompass our core values of ethical awareness and social responsibility by hosting a Read-a-Thon fundraiser. The idea for a Read-a-Thon was originally conceived last year by our Kindergarten teacher, Leigh Augustine. In the weeks leading up to RAAD, Leigh found herself reflecting on what this event really means to Parker. As she explained, “We have this wonderful celebration of literacy every year, and it’s great for our students. But I thought it would also be valuable for our kids to think about the purpose of this day, and how we might share the intention of that in a way that really speaks to Parker’s mission and values.”
To really understand what Leigh was getting at, we need to look at the history of RAAD. Read Across America Day was originally established by the National Education Association to promote literacy by honoring Dr. Suess’ birthday through reading. In recent years, however, the NEA has moved away from celebrating Dr. Suess, and instead evolved to focus on motivating children and teens to read through events, partnerships, and resources that are about everyone, for everyone. Their slogan, “Create and Celebrate: A Nation of Diverse Readers” reflects a child-centered focus on inclusivity that aligns with Parker’s values. As NEA President Lily Eskelsen García explains, “NEA believes diverse literature enables students to see themselves as the heroes of the story, while also showing them that all kinds of people can be the heroes too. It is important that we emphasize books that are telling children of color or of different gender identities that they belong in the world and the world belongs to them.”
In this spirit of promoting and celebrating literacy that includes ALL children, our PreK – 4th grade students all celebrated this day by participating in a Read-a-Thon to benefit The RED Bookshelf, a non-profit community literacy program in Albany. This organization works with community partners to provide free children’s books on bright red bookshelves throughout Albany to ensure that all children have access to the benefits of book ownership, regardless of income level. We have been in touch with Paul Hackett-Collins, the executive director of The RED Bookshelf, and he is thrilled to hear of Parker’s coming donation.