By SHEA STASKOWSKI
In celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, hundreds of area children, teachers and community members participated in Read Across America Wednesday.
In May 1997, a small reading task force with the National Education Association (NEA) wanted to orchestrate a day to celebrate reading, and they decided to make the celebration coincide with beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss.
The purpose of the reading celebration is to stress the importance of reading so that children will understand how it correlates to academic achievement. Research supports that children who are motivated to read, and spend time each day doing so, do better in school, according to the NEA.
America Reads Mississippi sponsors the Read Across America event with 333 full-time members who serve 82 school sites throughout the state. NEA estimated that 3.2 million elementary students participated in Read Across America Wednesday.
America Reads Mississippi West Oktibbeha County Team Leader Shalisha Owens didn’t want to celebrate reading just one day, so she turned the Read Across America into a week-long event.
“I felt like it was important due to the fact that we push our students to read, and we found that the more they read, the better they do on the MCT2,” Owens said. “We’re trying to promote literacy and we want the children to enjoy reading. This year, we’re pushing reading all the way.”
Owens planned activities for each day of the week to motivate students to read. She first started with a contest she posed to the students to see if they could read 500 short stories in five days to earn the chance to throw water balloons at the teachers.
She was amazed Wednesday morning when she counted the totals and found the students had not only reached, but also surpassed the goal with 554 stories read in just two days.
Monday was deemed Step Into Reading, and the students assembled for a step show. Each student also received a free book. Tuesday was pajama day and grandparents were invited to come to the school and read to the students.
Wednesday, the students dressed in Dr. Seuss’ favorite colors — red and white —and they ate green eggs and ham for breakfast. Also, Mississippi State University cheerleaders and Bully led a reading pep rally for the students. MSU baseball coach Nick Mingione and former basketball player Blessing Checkwa visited classrooms and read to the students.
Though today is MTC2 practice test day, community visitors will read to students in the library.
The celebration will culminate Friday with more community readers like Sturgis Mayor Walter Turner, Sturgis Chief of Police Will Hutchinson, a Maben Alderman, Sturgis ministers, retired teachers and parents.
“We wanted the students to know the importance of reading,” WOCES Principal Andrea Temple said. “We’re striving every day to inspire excellence in our children. This week, we’re focusing on all the aspects of reading like... reading comprehension to help them do their best on the state test.”
Ward Stewart Elementary also took part in Read Across America by inviting community members to read Dr. Seuss books to the students.
“Our goal in participating in Read Across America on Dr. Seuss’ birthday is to join together with students and adults all over the nation in celebration of reading,” teacher Laura Harris said. “We hope to engage students with books and texts in order to build positive attitudes towards reading, while building listening skills, supporting the independent use of strategies, skills and reading behaviors.
“Reading is the focal point of education. Without the ability to read, a student can not succeed and meet his or her potential. Reading is the key to unlocking the doors of knowledge,” Harris added. “Making reading fun and enjoyable will motivate students wo be successful in reading. In turn, success in reading encourages lifelong learning and the quest for new knowledge.”
Community readers included Starkville School District Supt. Judy Couey, SSD Attendance Officer Ross Williams, SSD Professional Development Center Coordinator Theresa Pitts, SSD Child Nutrition Director Beverly Lowry, Alderman Jeremiah Dumas, Starkville Firefighter Cole Norman, Land Bank Loan Officer Bart Harris, Starkville High JROTC Cadet Shanice Campbell, SHS cheerleader Leah Gibson, SHS basketball player Nathan Ball, SHS baseball player Garrett Batson, SHS football player Devin Mitchell, SHS soccer player Katelyn Graben and MSU soccer players Katelyn Graben, Jen Grant and Jasmine Simmons.
“At Ward Stewart, we are interested in making the Starkville community an integral part of educating our students,” Harris said. “We want students to identify with community members and adults of all ages and professions. We also want to provide positive examples of what you can become in life — if you can read.”