Students kick off 25-book campaign in costume
Bringing characters to life tool to get students excited about reading
Brenda Ahearn/The Gazette
Students at James McHenry Elementary School could only hope when they walked into school on a recent morning they'd spend the day with the sweet teacher Miss Nelson—not the dreaded substitute, Viola Swamp.
Teacher Mary Summers spent the school day Oct. 1 as the title character of the children's book "Miss Nelson Is Missing" and teacher Tisha Stargel as her mean alter-ego. Just as in the book, the costumes were designed to teach students a lesson—on this day, it was the importance, and excitement, of reading.
Students and teachers at the Lanham elementary school dressed as their favorite storybook characters, and teachers participated in a fashion show to kick off the America's Choice 25-book campaign to increase literacy.
"It was my favorite storybook growing up, and dressing up as Viola Swamp was a way to bring the character to life," Stargel said.
The day's purpose was to excite students about the reading campaign kick-off by allowing students to dress as their favorite story book characters and see their teachers dressed in character during a fashion show, said media specialist Tiffany Whitaker, who helped coordinate the day.
Students are encouraged, but not required, by the county curriculum to read 25 books during the academic year. The school will focus on a different book each month—October's is "Grace for President." The book is about Grace, an elementary school student who runs for class president against the boys' soccer team captain.
This is the school's second year participating in the America's Choice program, which uses activities such as the 25-book campaign and a book of the month to promote reading in Prince George's County Public Schools. James McHenry Elementary is one of 22 elementary and 11 middle schools in the county that are participating in the America's Choice program.
"We want to encourage reading," Stargel said. "The goal is to expose them to more than a million words in an academic year; their vocabularies will be limitless."
Stargel asked her class of nearly 30 students if they felt motivated to read. Their response was a unanimous "Yes!"
"They're asking when we're doing it again," she said.
Whitaker, who dressed as the title character of Fancy Nancy, and Ebbony Young, a special education teacher who dressed as Tinkerbell, coordinated the event. Young came up with the idea for the fashion show to improve over last year's kick-off, in which only teachers dressed up and students only read books.
"I don't mind looking like a fool to get the point across, if it motivates children," Young said. "Without the motivation, they don't do what we ask them to do. Some kids think reading is boring, so hopefully this excites them, and then when they're reading, they'll remember us as the character."
Whitaker told students "the more you read, the better you read, and you'll have a better vocabulary."
Teachers keep a book log, and students let them know when they've read five books, Young said. Students will track their reading on posters in the school's main hall. For every five books read, students get an ice cream scoop cut-out to put on their grade level's ice cream cone poster.
Some teachers require students to do a write-up of each book to read to verify they're reading, Whitaker said. She said the school may hold an ice cream social and a follow-up dress-up day at the end of the year.
There was a morning assembly for pre-kindergarten to second-graders and an afternoon assembly for third- to sixth-graders. Students cheered on 18 third to sixth grade teachers who dressed as Arthur, Mary Poppins, a mouse from "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" and a cat from "The Cat in the Hat," among others.
Andrew NnaiThran, 11, is a sixth-grader who dressed as Scooby Doo and plans to exceed the book minimum.
"I like to read Scooby Doo books, [and] my favorite is "Mummies At The Mall,'" he said. "My goal is to read 120 books. I do like to read a variety of books so I can learn more."
Mikayla Guile, 7, a second-grader, dressed as Hannah Montana, "I read a lot," she said. "My goal is 30 books, but I don't want to push myself too far. I read 10 books a day."
Kindergartner Jalyn King, 5, dressed as Arthur. "My favorite Arthur book is Arthur Babysits,'" she said. "The books are better than the show because they have funny words. I want to read 25 books; I like to read."
E-mail Liz Skalski at email@example.com.