At an assembly in the Norge Elementary School gymnasium, the mood is festive as the school kicks off its participation in Virginia Reads One Book.
With rapt attention, children listen as two players from one of the event’s sponsors, the Washington Redskins, read the first chapter of “Cleo Edison Oliver, Playground Millionaire” by Sundee T. Frazier. Shortly after, students are given their own copy of the book.
Throughout March, students will read chapters in class and at home with their families. The school also plans several tie-in events and lessons, said Principal Veronda Matthews.
The Virginia Reads One Book program has students in schools across the state follow along a chapter in school and at home together every day. The book this year, “Cleo Edison Oliver, Playground Millionaire,” follows an elementary school girl as she tries out various money-making ideas, which played a part on why it was selected.
“Several members of our staff come from a division where they participated in this program previously,” said Matthews. “They were all really excited about this program, and the more we looked into it, the more it sounded like something we wanted to do here.”
More than 60,000 students from 143 Virginia elementary schools participate in Virginia Reads One Book.
This year is the first that any schools from Williamsburg-James City County have participated, with Norge Elementary being the first. James River Elementary School will kick off their own participation next week.
“When I worked in Hampton Roads, we did Virginia Reads One Book for 7 years, and it was always a great way to get the kids excited about reading at school and at home,” said Stacey Walker, the reading specialist at Norge. “I knew when I came to WJCC, I wanted to bring the program with me, it was only a matter of finding the support and funding.”
Norge worked on a grant for funding, before Chesapeake Bank offered to fully fund the program at the school, including buying each student a copy of the book, as well as covering things like activity fees.
“The bank has already worked with several schools in Richmond over the last couple years to secure funding for Virginia Reads One Book,” said Christian Kent, Marketing Coordinator with Chesapeake Bank. “As soon as we heard that some schools locally were looking to do the same, we were very fast to reach out and offer any support we could.”
The bank is also supporting the program at James River Elementary, but for Kent, supporting the reading program at Norge is a particularly happy coincidence.
“(This) was really special because my girlfriend teaches at Norge, and I actually have a little sister attending,” said Kent. “I actually hope to be able to get together to read with her for this.”
According to Walker, that family participation is a major reason why she and others are such supporters of the program.
“Reading is very much a community effort, especially at that young age, so a program like this, where the kids get to read along at school and at home, as part of a group, it’s a great way to promote reading and get them excited about it.” said Walker.
Library media specialist Christine Koenig, who worked alongside Walker to bring the program to the school, says the program is a great one to get children excited about reading and involved outside of the classroom.
“As a librarian, I always want to do anything I can to get kids excited about reading, and to encourage reading with their families, and Virginia Reads One Book is a great program to do it,” said Koenig. “To be able to see these kids talking about the book on the playground or at lunch, that’s the kind of response you always want to see from young readers.”
Even at kickoff, the response they’ve seen from students and parents is enough that the school plans to participate again next year, if circumstances allow.
“Anything that can promote early literacy like this is worth doing,” said Matthews. “If it costs time, energy or effort, anything we can do to help make our kids learn to read and love to read is worth it.”
Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.