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Books Take Center Stage at Schools This Week

Mount Vernon schools celebrate Reading Across America.

Reading is Fun(damental). That was the message this week at schools all over Mount Vernon as they celebrated Dr. Seuss' 100th birthday. From congressman to police officers, adults took time out of their schedules to participate in Read Across America.

In the morning, U.S. Congressman Tom Davis (R-VA-11) stopped by Waynewood Elementary to visit Susan Whitton's kindergarten class. He brought with him his favorite Dr. Seuss book, "On Beyond Zebra." Most of the students hadn't heard of this title; they were more familiar with "Cat in the Hat" and "Green Eggs and Ham."

Davis said he likes the book because it has to do with "thinking outside the box." The premise in this book is that there are more than 26 letters in the alphabet.

"Most people stop at the 'Z' but not me," says Dr. Seuss, and proceeds to introduce a plethora of new letters, like the sneedle, the thnad and the zatz.

Davis read it without stumbling, as if he'd read it a hundred times. There were lots of giggles from the students, but Davis managed to keep a straight face while reading. He did smile when the students asked him questions after the reading.

From Waynewood, Davis went on to Woodley Hills, where he not only read to students, but participated in Capital One's 2004 Literacy Celebration as well. This celebration marks the public announcement of Capital One's partnership with the Heart of America Foundation.

Woodley Hills Principal Rima Vesiland said, "Congressman Davis' visit as part of our Literacy Celebration during the daytime was excellent. He made a very strong point to our student body that America is a very special place, indeed. He asked the children to raise their hands if they came from another country. When a large number of them did so, he told them that reading was the absolute key to success. He also explained that if they had moved with their families to Germany or France, they would never really be Germans or Frenchmen, but here in this country they could all become Americans and be part of our democracy."

Vesiland said that there were several other important visitors during the daytime celebration including: Susan Allen, Janet Oleszek, Dan Storck, Steve Hunt, Brad Draeger, Calanthia Tucker, Bill Halamadaris (founder of Heart of America), Gary Perlin (CFO of Capital One) and many volunteer readers.

"Each of them took time from their busy schedules to read a book to our children," said Vesiland.

BELLE VIEW ELEMENTARY also invited guests in for their Reading Marathon. Several parents read, as did local business people: Daniel Sanders, Noesis Inc.; Kelley Geilen, PPL; Dick Lucier, Diversified Benefits; Anita Ellis, Avalon Caterers; and Ryan Taylor, Banana Banner. C. Robert Davis, principal of Belle View, read to the students before lunch, and then Officer Shawn Bennett came to read to his daughter Amanda's kindergarten class.

Bennett said that he's been coming to school to read for several years; he also has an older daughter, Rachel, whose classes he has read to.

"It's fun, the kids look at you in uniform and they enjoy having you here," said Bennett.

His book of choice this time was "Officer Buckle and Gloria," by Peggy Rathmann. He likes it because it talks about what police officers do. Before he read the book, however, Librarian Mark Tierney asked him to read a whimsical poem about Dr. Seuss written in the Washington Post's KidPost section.

Not to be outdone by the elementary schools, Stacey Stevenson's drama classes at Carl Sandburg took on the task of performing readers' theater renditions of Dr. Seuss classics. Held in the library, the sessions were open to parents and other classes. In the morning, one class tackled "Sam I Am." Divided into two groups, one group took on the role of "Sam," while the other took on the role of the "grouchy man." Reading from pages presented by Stevenson on overview sheets, they brought the characters to life with their interpretations.

For the next book, "Mr. Brown Can Moo," she asked the visiting students to break up into four groups to participate in the reading. With drama students implanted in each group, they took on the task of reading that book.

"You don't have to be loud to dramatize," said Stevenson, who also mentioned that it's been proved that students who are involved in the fine arts have higher test scores.

"It works certain parts of the brain," she said.

LATER ON, FAMILY LITERACY NIGHTS were held at both Groveton and Woodley Hills Elementary Schools. Third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade teachers at Groveton shared lessons and strategies with parents and students in grade-level workshops. They wanted to show the parents how they are using a variety of reading strategies with their students and what their children are learning in order to reinforce the work at home.

Groveton Principal Chris Lamb said, "Parents stated they were very excited to learn about the strategies that their children were learning to apply in their guided reading and personal reading selections. Another parent noted to Nan Martin, Groveton's Reading Teacher, that they were thankful that staff were willing to share their personal time so generously with the parents to help them to learn these reading comprehension strategies."

Martin said, "I was thrilled to see parents and students leaning over the same books together."

Pizza, songs, and storytelling were featured at Literacy Night at Woodley Hills Elementary. After a dinner of pizza and submarine sandwiches, students performed songs and skits. They were then entertained by professional storyteller Marian Licha, performing "A Magical Journey Into Latin America."

Families had time to visit their childrens' classrooms, where students showed off their student treasures books, writing journals and reading skills. Students in the upper grades taught their families the reading or writing strategies they have been learning in school.

Literacy Night was a terrific success.

Vesiland was pleased with the event, and said, "We had more than 400 children and their families come to participate in the activities. There was a dinner with performances from the Woodley Hills Cheerleaders and Drama Club. There was a PTA meeting where our school board member, Dan Storck, talked with parents while the children enjoyed a storyteller in the gym. Then all of the families went to the classrooms to celebrate their students' reading and writing. It was a warm, accepting crowd of happy families."