The Gift of Reading

Last week, we were delighted to feature the creative stylings and imaginative projects presented during Parker’s annual Read Across America Day (RAAD) celebration. For our lower school students, however, the fun was just beginning. Thanks to the creative and thoughtful efforts of our incredible Parker teachers, this year our lower school extended their RAAD celebration to encompass our core values of ethical awareness and social responsibility by hosting a Read-a-Thon fundraiser this past Monday.
The idea for a Read-a-Thon was originally conceived 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 in 1998 by the National Education Association as a way to promote literacy by asking students to honor Dr. Suess’ birthday through reading. In recent years, however, the NEA has reflected and refined, evolving this original holiday into a year-long campaign focused on motivating children and teens to read through events, partnerships, and resources that are about everyone, for everyone. Their new slogan, “Create and Celebrate: A Nation of Diverse Readers” reflects a more 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 participated in a day-long Read-a-Thon this past Monday. Students collected pledges-per-book read aloud in grades PreK – 2, and pledges-per-minute read in grades 3 and 4, and each class spent the entire day reading to maximize those pledge totals. To make the day extra special, everyone wore pajamas, and each class featured a variety of guest readers including specialist teachers, administrators, and even our former beloved PreK assistant, Agi Laufer. Ultimately, our PreK read 24 books, our Kindergarten read 30 books, our 1-2 class read 18 books, and our 3-4 class read a total of 188 minutes!
Pledge collections are still coming in, and a final total will be announced soon! In the meantime, we are happy to share that all proceeds from our Read-a-Thon will be donated locally to 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. Paul also asked that our community help raise social media awareness for The RED Bookshelf by sharing #CaughtReading photos and tagging them on Instagram or Facebook. #CaughtReading photos can feature anyone from your family caught anywhere reading — hanging upside down from a tree, dressed up as a favorite character, or feet up at the breakfast table — any photo that might normalize reading and connect readers from all backgrounds.

We are grateful to our extended family community for their generous support of this project, and we are so incredibly proud of our teachers and students for reaching out in kindness and using their time, talents, and energy to help others.
PreK Identity Project
*Please click on the image below to see all of our PreK “I Am” portraits and to read their collective “I AM” poem.
If you were to visit the halls of Parker, you would be captivated by the display of culminating project work that our PreK accomplished during Black History Month. Together, the class studied several influential black artists as a springboard to starting conversations about race and identity. They read about artist Jacob Lawrence with Jake Makes a World, by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts and Christopher Myers. They also read Radiant Child, the Story of Jean-Michel Basquiat, by Javaka Steptoe, and they looked at the work of artist Faith Ringgold, who is best known for her colorful paintings and quilt works which often depict themes from American history and politics.

PreK 4 teacher, Michele Ridgeway, elaborated on the work they’ve been doing: “We celebrated our different skin colors by drawing a self-portrait and coloring in the skin tone that we thought best matched our skin. Everyone’s skin is a different color! We also celebrated who we are as individuals by sharing words that we would use to describe ourselves. The words of each child combined to create a beautiful “I Am” poem to share, thus celebrating our PreK community. By creating this work, we celebrate our abilities and accomplishments as individuals, thinkers, writers, and artists.”

This work is an extension of our school’s ongoing commitment to promoting anti-racist values in our classrooms. As we know from our professional development with Dr. Kendi, it is never too early to begin antiracism work with children. Talking to children about skin color teaches them that is okay to notice and have conversations about differences. Modeling how to talk about and celebrate the ways in which we are both similar and unique helps children build empathy, acceptance, and respect while also providing a safe space for questions and learning. This early work is foundational to cultivating the thoughtful, articulate, and socially responsible citizens that our Parker graduates become.