Classrooms celebrate Read Across America Day

Some Williamsburg-James City County students looked on excitedly as a few high-profile faces settled down in their classrooms Thursday, book in hand.

Visitors such as state Sen. Monty Mason, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Steve Staples and W-JCC Superintendent Olwen Herron, read a book or two to the class, with animated gestures and exaggerated voices captivating the cross-legged students.

Every year, W-JCC elementary schools celebrate learning through books for the National Education Association's Read Across America Day.

That the celebration falls on March 2 is no coincidence. The day is also prolific children's author Theodor Geisel's birthday — better known as Dr. Seuss.

Guest readers throughout the community took on the man's tongue twisting words Thursday. At Stonehouse Elementary, Herron read Seuss' "Oh, the Places You'll Go." Two retired teachers also stepped up to read. Ann Bradshaw broached "The Lorax," while Chris Dye enunciated each word of "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish."

At Matthew Whaley Elementary, Williamsburg Mayor Paul Freilling read to Jennifer Lambert's third-grade class — complete with falsetto voices and appropriate "argh mateys" for the pirate book he chose.

In his deep, commanding voice, College of William and Mary President Taylor Reveley presided over Katie Plum's third-grade class from a child-sized, baby blue wooden chair.

He shared Verna Aardema's "Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears: A West Africa Tale."

Landon Davis and Jesus Ramirez Rodriguez are buddies in Plum's class; they sat next to each other while Reveley read. Both said they liked the story.

"I like to read to myself sometimes," Landon said. About why it's nice to read with adults he said, "for inspiration and to learn how to read and be inspired by books."

Both boys said they read at home with their parents. At home, Jesus speaks Spanish, but they read in English. He said he's not very good at reading in Spanish yet.

Reading with adults in class or at home is good, "because it teaches you, like if you don't know a word," Jesus said.

At Matthew Whaley, there was an emphasis on reading as learning.

Mason read Oliver Jeffers' "The Incredible Book Eating Boy" to his daughter's third-grade class. The book is about a boy who didn't read books — he ate them, and he got smarter and smarter because of it.

Mason brought the lesson home when the book introduced a new word, "boke," an Irish word for vomit. He paused in the reading to talk to the children about how even he, as an adult, still learns when he reads.

Matthew Whaley has hosted readers annually on Seuss' birthday for nine years; Mason has been coming for four. With both daughters at Matthew Whaley, he said each year he switches whose class he reads to.

"I love it. First of all, I love Dr. Seuss," Mason said. "The older I've gotten, and the more I do — in the General Assembly with so much to do in so little time, you have to be able to devour a lot of information in short time. Reading is a skill; it takes practice."

After reading to the class, Mason was joined by Virginia Education Association President Jim Livingston and Herron to show the students a senate resolution he spearheaded this session.

The document commemorates the National Education Association on its 20-year success with the Read Across America program. Livingston said last year, more than 16 million students participated in some activity for Read Across America Day.

Livingston came prepared to impress with the iconic "Cat in the Hat" red-and-white-striped cap perched on his head.

"Reading is something we should never, ever stop doing, even adults read every day," Livingston told the class.

Schools that didn't have guest readers celebrated in different ways. Matoaka Elementary did a student-to-student book exchange and D.J. Montague set up a buddy read system: third-graders read to kindergarteners, fourth read to second and fifth read to first-graders.

Members of the Kiwanis Club spent time reading at both James River and Norge Elementary schools, and local authors Gayle Agee and Reyes Talbot read to classes at Stonehouse.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

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