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A Birthday is a Great Day, and a Great Way, to Say, 'Hey! Books are A-OK'

 Carlile students pose for a picture on Dr. Seuss's Birthday

To be sure, there were green eggs and ham a plenty.

Funky and often mismatched socks were almost a given, as were pajamas.

It was difficult to walk a few feet without seeing whiskers, or a towering red-and-white striped stovepipe hat.

And it would take several hands to count the number of Things 1 and 2, as well as art projects inspired by the protector of the trees, a famous cat and a well-known turtle.

But, above all, there were books.

Books being read by young scholars and books being read to them.

All in all, a colorful and engaging way to reinforce the importance of reading in honor of an author and illustrator who literally wrote the book on children’s books.

Across the district, Read Across America Week, which annually coincides with the birthday of Theodor “Dr. Suess” Geisel, saw D60 students revel in the wealth of activities and specially themed days designed to add a fun component to the pro-literacy campaign.

As is tradition, a number of district and community notables, from Superintendent Charlotte Macaluso to Sheriff Kirk Taylor to Mayor Nick Gradisar, donned the famous “Cat in the Hat” headware and read their favorite Dr. Seuss book to elementary level youngsters.

Due to pandemic-related protocol, however, the readings were delivered either remotely in a pre-recorded video format. 

But the message that reading is fun, as well as fundamental, clearly resonated with the scholars.

For the students at Carlile, Columbian and Minnequa elementary schools, the annual celebration offers an opportunity to honor and recognize heroic figures within the community.

Fittingly, the trio of schools selected the frontline health care workers of St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center as the recipients of their gratitude.

As a “thank you” for their service during the pandemic – as well as for taking the time to read the works of Dr. Seuss -- these selfless professionals were presented with a framed illustration depicting cartoon superheroes like Spiderman, Batman, Wonder Woman and The Flash bowing in respect to blue-gowned and masked warriors walking through a hospital corridor.

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself,” reads one of the graphic’s captions, with another noting, “Heroes are ordinary people who make themselves extraordinary.”

Abbie Spillman, a literacy specialist who works with the three schools, set up the partnership between the trio of institutions and the hospital located in the heart of Bessemer.

“What better heroes to honor than our health care workers, who have gone on the front lines for us,” Ms. Spillman said, adding that the medical professionals were “extremely moved” by the gift of the hero-themed illustration.

 “One doctor said he was so touched that tears came to his eyes,” she noted. “I’ve heard from so many that ‘this is the most beautiful thing you could have done for us.’” A student cuts out the image of her hand on construction paper

Silas, a fifth-grader at Carlile, said one doesn’t have to take on arch-criminals to be viewed as a superhero.

“They don’t fight bad guys or anything like that, but if it wasn’t for our doctors and nurses, we would be like, ‘Oh my God! What do we with COVID?’” Silas said. “And we wouldn’t have a vaccine. So to me, they are as good as superheroes.”

Classmate Carlie said the gift presented by the students pales in comparison to what the frontline personnel have done for the community.

“It’s not only for COVID, but everything they do whenever we are sick or need help,” she said. “And everyone is just thankful for them. But like Silas said, without a vaccine, COVID could go on a lot longer.”

As for the Dr. Seuss-themed activities that coincide with the annual reading campaign, Silas said, “I like it because it allows us to be us: we get to be whacky and fun, you know?” 

At Minnequa, kindergarteners were treated to a reading of “Ten Apples Up on Top” by Jennifer Gabel-Adney, Director of Nursing at St. Mary-Corwin. This, naturally, was followed by a cute activity in which the tykes were tasked with stacking pieces of “Apple Jacks” cereal on a worksheet, with gentle encouragement from their teacher “not to eat anything” until the project was complete. 

Across town at Irving Elementary, the occasion of Read Across America Week proved to be the perfect time for a two-week read-a-thon, with scholars logging the most minutes rewarded with a host of top-drawer prizes, including science lab kits and Bluetooth speakers.

“The read-a-thon is part of our Title 1,” said Brenda Tackett, an Instructional Coach and Online Educator. “For two weeks, students keep track of the amount of time spent in reading. Every time they turn in a log, they get a prize. And the classroom with the most minutes read gets a big class prize.”

Franklin's Principal takes a photo with three of her students on Dr. Seuss's Birthday  Also sharing in the prize bounty are the teacher whose classroom boasts the most ardent readers and their parents.

“It’s just a way to get kids involved and active in reading,” Ms. Tackett said. “And we incorporated that into the Dr. Seuss activities and Spirit Day.”

At Franklin School of Innovation, Read Across America was personalized to Read Across Franklin, with Principal Dina DiTomaso-Junkman coordinating a host of activities.

The colorful tone of the week was set by a large-scale “Cat in the Hat” themed balloon sculpture, purchased by the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization and set up near the front entrance. This was complemented by life-sized wooden cutouts of famous Dr. Seuss characters donated to the school by the Centennial High School construction program. 

“Every grade level has different activities,” said Principal DiTomaso-Junkman. “Some are related to Dr. Seuss and some are related to books provided to us by EPIC: Executives Partnering to Invest in Children.”

In a Franklin fifth-grade classroom, scholars were deep into “The Lightning Thief,” a fantasy-themed book from the EPIC cache. As each chapter is completed, students visualize notable characters and events, with the compiled images to eventually form a mural in a hallway of the school.

“I like it because it’s really interesting. There are many creatures and they are going after Percy Jackson because his friend is a half-goat, half-man,” explained fifth-grader Exzarian. 

The mural, undoubtedly, will be an exciting sight to behold.

Click here to watch a video slideshow of the week's activities

Students at Haaff pose for a picture on Dr. Seuss's Birthday