March 05, 2018

With Read Across America grants, educators 'give the gift of reading'

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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read across american in saranac lake
Caption: The NYSUT book grant to Saranac Lake Teachers Association was used in part for this multicultural diversity night held in February; an Adirondack Cultural Festival and Read Across America celebration at the Adirondack Carousel is scheduled for March 10. Photo provided.

While many of the planned events for Read Across America on Friday were cancelled due to a heavy, wet snowstorm that clomped its way across the Northeast, closing schools and taking out power lines, some students were quite happy to sit home and sequester themselves with a book. Now back at school, they’ll be joining in the fun this week and by taking part in formal reading events to mark this annual program.

Just what is Read Across America?

Picture a book, pulled off a shelf — a book so big and so wide that when you open it, the spine crackles like a flame and stretches cover-to-cover from California to New York.

This is what RAA calls to mind: imagination brought to life by books.

Each year during the annual National Education Association March 2 event, children and teens take time out to read in school, talk up books, discover new books, and sometimes, get books to take home. And this year, more New York students than ever will be walking home with a book, or finding new books in their school libraries, since New York State United Teachers won an NEA grant to award 21 local unions $1,000 each, enabling teachers and School Related Professionals to buy books for students. Because reading, of course, is never just for one day. It’s for always. When a book says “The End,” it’s merely time to start another one.

  • Congratulations to Our Grant Winners! [CLICK TO VIEW FULL LIST]

    Read Across America Grant Winners

    • Adirondack Teachers Association
    • Ballston Spa Teachers Association
    • Brentwood Teachers Association
    • United Federation of Teachers
    • Schenectady Federation of Teachers
    • Tri Valley Teachers Association and Essential Support Staff Association
    • Hicksville Congress of Teachers
    • Easy Syracuse Minoa United Teachers
    • Webutuck Teachers Association
    • Hempstead Teaching Assistants Association
    • Newburgh Teachers Association
    • St. Regis Falls Teachers Association
    • West Seneca Teachers Association
    • Rochester Teachers Association
    • Mohonasen Teachers Association
    • Albany Public Schools Teachers Association
    • RC-23 Ellwood
    • Middle Island Teachers Association
    • Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers
    • RC-21 Southdown
    • Saranac Lake Teachers Association

Grant winners purchased their books from the nonprofit First Book Inc., unwrapping boxes with titles that shine on this year’s theme: “A Nation of Diverse Readers.” Some of the books that have been chosen are the bilingual “Lola Reads to Leo,” “My Name is Yoon,” “Jackie Robinson: He Lead the Way,” and “Malala: A Hero for All.” There’s also “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out,” “Pashmina,” “The Bee Tree,” and “What Elephants Know.”

Books can provide insight into the differences that come from race, language, income, abilities and more.

Michelle Ziegle, a library media specialist with the 127-member Adirondack Teachers Association in Booneville Oneida County, said the $1,000 NYSUT grant is being used to buy books for each of the district’s five school libraries.

“This grant will be beneficial to our students because it will supply the libraries with some much-needed books that will include diversity in the collections,” she said. “Each school library will get $200 worth of books. “Our union members are in action by taking part in this endeavor.”

In the Mid-Hudson, the Tri-Valley teachers and support staff joined their two unions, the Teachers Association and the Essential Support Staff Association, in the successful pitch for a NYSUT grant. With it, they will have an event for grades 7-12 on Wednesday with a guest author giving a book talk: their very own teacher Ron Hughes, who wrote “Who Killed Hazel Drew?” English teacher Russ Morey also will discuss the process of publishing. And, during lunch, each student will be able to choose a book to keep.

“We spent all the money!” said a happy Matthew Haynes, who teaches literature and composition and is a vice president of the union. His favorite book? “Catcher in the Rye,” which he flat out says opened his mind to becoming a teacher at a time when he had no idea what he wanted to do.

“I want to teach books like this to kids, and maybe help them improve their lives as it did mine,” he said.

The district’s pre-K through sixth graders, and their families, will be treated to “Dinner and a Story.” Following the meal, parents will be able to select a book and read to their child on chairs and beanbags set up in the halls and library.

“Tons of people are volunteering. We care about the community and want to give back,” Haynes said of the unions and their members. “We want to stick together. We want solidarity.”

Haynes found out about First Book at NYSUT’s Leadership Institute last summer. The union has since handed out books during Halloween’s “Trunk or Treat” party, and has wrapped books chosen by students before Winter Break so they could “Give the Gift of Reading” to a friend or family member.

The NYSUT book grant to Saranac Lake is being used on several levels. A multicultural diversity night was held in February, providing space for students to display their family heritage, bring in cultural artifacts, and dress in traditional clothing. The scent of foods from around the world filled the school, and music pulsed through the air from artists around the globe.

“Each child left with a new book to share and love, funded by the Saranac Lake Teachers Association,” said co-president Maria DeAngelo, who shared that one of her favorite book series when she was young was “The Borrowers” by Mary Norton. “I loved the idea of a tiny world within a world and the interaction between the two.”

More to come from this group: an Adirondack Cultural Festival and Read Across America celebration at the Adirondack Carousel on March 10. Andrea Varano, a seventh grade resource room teacher helping to organize the event, said: “Even though I struggled as a reader, I am now an adult who loves to read and recognizes the power of a good book and the place that it takes you. In the busy days that we live in, sitting down with a book is one of the most peaceful, meditative experiences we can give ourselves.”

“We worked as a team to brainstorm a list of books that would address diversity in many different forms: from learning differences and gender differences to language and cultural differences,” said DeAngelo, crediting middle school reading specialist Suzanne Nicholas with helping to choose title suggestions.

Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers, a NYSUT grant winner, took a lighter touch to spotlight Read Across America. In the week leading up to the birthday of Theodore Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, students wore green on Monday for “Green Eggs and Ham,” crazy socks on Tuesday for “Fox in Socks,” mismatched and backward clothing for “Wacky Wednesday,” shirts that showed places on Thursday for “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” and Cat-in-the-Hat attire on Friday for “Cat in the Hat.”

An inventive Staff Book Tasting is still to come, according to Susan Miele, library media specialist. Educators will be invited to the library for a light breakfast to find out what their students are reading as a route to make connections while they talk about genre, plot, settings and adventures.

The ultimate recognition of the world of reading comes within a school library, a place where students can search the stacks for just the right book.
It is a place of thinking and quiet, a place to honor books. In Tupper Lake, the elementary school library is being named this week in honor of former teacher and reading specialist Michelle LaMere and the impact she made on generations of young readers. She was only recently retired when she died last year after a brief illness from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Family Reading Night, where students and parents will sit on blankets and line the halls as they read, will follow the dedication.

“There are some students who do not have books at home to read, they only have access to their school library or classroom books,” said Miele, the Patchogue Medford library media specialist. “As educators, we know it is extremely important for all students to read continuously… Their families are sometimes not able to afford to purchase books or to visit the public library; therefore we are the primary distributors.”

It’s a bonus when these children can be given books.

“I have never seen a happier smile on a child’s face,” she said, “as I hand them a new book and tell them to take it home forever.”

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