Forestdale Elementary School first-grader Farzaan Rashit sits on the floor reading aloud from his favorite book, "Little Rabbit Foo Foo," with sixth-graders Carol Sorto and Mary Cuellar hanging on his every word.
Sure the girls have read the book before, but that was beside the point. They had never had Farzaan read it to them.
"We're just listening to him," said Carol. "We're his buddies."
Just a couple desks over another first-grader, Johnathan La, is reading his favorite book, "The Meanies Came to School," to his "reading buddy" sixth-grader Sean Samlal.
"I've been listening to lots of types of books," Sean said. "It's interesting."
In fact, all 472 students at the Springfield school spent all of last Friday reading or listening to others read to them as part of the fifth annual Read-In.
THE READ-IN, created by the school's reading specialist Mary Amico, included guest readers consisting of parents, School Board members, Fairfax County Public Schools administrators and various members of the community; games such as READO, which is based on the concept of BINGO, and Reading Jeopardy; the reading buddies and other activities. Since this year's theme was American Heroes, among the guest speakers were a uniformed Secret Service officer and members of the Coast Guard.
"The whole idea is to encourage reading," said Erika Jann, an English teacher for the English for Speakers of Other Languages program.
To get ready for the event, the various classes wrote acrostic poems or research papers about their heroes and the sixth-graders created puppets to help bring famous Americans to life.
"With the way things have been happening in this country lately, we wanted to highlight everyday heroes," Amico said. "The children see heroes on TV, but we wanted them to see a hero can be mom or a neighbor, someone who touches our everyday lives."
In addition to all the reading, each hour a student was selected to read their acrostic poem, most were about a family member, and a handful of students were chosen from a drawing to win a book.
ONE OF THE BIGGEST attention getters for the students was Officer Joe Vadala, a uniformed member of the Secret Service's Motorcade and Support Unit. Dressed in full uniform, Vadala went from room to room reading books and telling the students about his job. He brought along photographs for the children of President George W. Bush, Air Force One flying over Mount Rushmore and a close-up of the Secret Service shield.
"He told us how he protects the President and what he does when he's not with the President. And what kind of training he went through and what it is like inside the White House," said sixth grader David Rosario, who by coincidence has an uncle who worked with Vadala.
For sixth-grade teacher Jane Betsill, the heroes of the day were her students, she said as she watched her charges interact with their first-grade buddies.
"They're role models. They're the oldest in the school and it's nice to see them work with the youngest," Betsill said. "This puts them in a leadership role and gives them a place of honor with the young children."