LocationAlhambra , CA United States
Last Thursday parents, volunteers, Alhambra’s mayor, the superintendent of Alhambra Unified School District, members of the school board, and other community leaders came together to read to the 448 students at Emery Park Elementary School, and celebrate “Reading is Magic,” an event that promotes literacy and fosters a love of books.
Administrative staff wore Harry Potter themed garb including Gryffindor scarves, wizardry wands, trademark glasses, and sorting hat replicas as they escorted the volunteers to the classrooms where they would be reading that morning. The walls inside Emery library, which was the staging area for the event, were filled to the brim with flags from Hogwarts houses, Funko Pop! figurines of characters from the movies, and a pile of sweets from the film including enchanted chocolate frogs.
‘Reading is Magic’ was celebrated in conjunction with Read Across America, the national event that promotes literacy in and out of classrooms and seeks to inspire imagination, improve vocabulary, incite productive habits and develop creativity for students. The organizers at Emery Park Elementary, a K-8 school located on Commonwealth Ave. in Alhambra, reached these goals by inviting community volunteers to visit the campus and read aloud to students in each of the 19 classrooms.
Among the volunteers was Alhambra Unified Superintendent Denise Jaramillo who read “No Talking” by Andrew Clements, a children’s novel about two groups of obnoxious elementary students who challenge each other to a no talking contest after being inspired by the teachings of the non-violent activist Mahatma Gandhi. Throughout her reading to the 7th grade classroom she would stop mid-sentence and ask engaging questions about the plot before reading on. “Engaging students in reading is more about raising questions and creating problems for them to solve than it is about answering questions. It’s also about being truly interested in their answers,” said Superintendent Jaramillo.
Alhambra’s newly appointed Mayor Adele Andrade-Stadler was also one of the ‘Reading is Magic’ volunteers. She read “Bless Me, Ultima” by Rudolfo Anaya, a coming of age novel that takes place in 1940’s rural New Mexico. Andrade-Stadler read to Dr. Gloria Fernandez’s 6th grade class.
According the Emery Park Principal Jeremy Infranca, who wore a wizard’s robe from the popular Harry Potter series, community support is why this literacy event, now in its tenth year at Emery, has been so successful. Alhambra Unified School District Board members Jane Anderson and Joanne Russell-Chavez; Alhambra Teachers Association President Tammy Scorcia and 14 parents were among the guest readers for the event.
“What’s driven the event is the fact that Emery Park is a community school. We’ve got parents here, the mayor here, [school] board members here, the superintendent here and they come back year after year because they love the opportunity to share their stories with the kids. I think that’s what makes the event special.” said Infranca, who is in his third year of organizing and participating in the annual event. His sons, 11 and 15, are fans of the Captain Underpants and Harry Potter series.
Among the parents was Michelle Adair, a first time volunteer and a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse at a local hospital. She read to her 5-year-old daughter’s kindergarten class, from the book “Bat’s at the Library” by Brian Lies, which follows a curious group of book-loving bats who sneak into a library every night and read until sunrise. She was sifting through bookcases looking for a title to read to a 7th grade classroom that morning and felt anxious about reading to a group of older students.“It was a little unnerving at first,” she said, reflecting on the experience of reading to children in public for the first time.
Adair admitted that although she reads to her daughter at home, it’s not as much as she’d like. ‘Reading is Magic’ helped her realize that making time to read at home is easier than it seems. “To be able to sit down and read to the kids in the fashion that we did, [it shows] that I can incorporate this [effortlessly] at home,” said Adair.
According to the website of the National Education Association (NEA), which started the Read Across America initiative in 1998 and hosts reading motivation exercises, having events that encourage students to read “is an important factor in student achievement and creating lifelong successful readers. Research has shown that children who are motivated and spend more time reading do better in school.” Schools, libraries and education organizations around the country organize an annual event like ‘Reading is Magic’ around March 2nd, the birthday of the late children’s book author Dr. Seuss who received acclaim for children classics such as “Green Eggs and Ham”, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”, and “Horton Hears a Who!”
Francesca Calderon, an 8th grade student at Emery Park, thinks that community read-in events have a variety of benefits. Talking about the experience of having adults read to her and her classmates, Calderon said “it’s not about your age when you’re reading or learning. Reading is something you should do no matter how old you are. When you read about [new subjects], you become more educated and you make better decisions because you expose yourself to different topics.” Francesca has been an Emery Park Elementary student for six years and read “Oh, the places you’ll go” by Dr. Seuss to her little sister the night before the event. She is currently reading the second book in the Harry Potter series.
Visit the NEA’s Read Across America website for literacy resources.