Read Across America Week began in 1988 by the National Education Association and is the “nation’s largest celebration of reading” (NEA n.d.). It is always celebrated the week of March 2 to correspond with Dr. Seuss’ birthday, which is who was originally celebrated when the event was created. Because of this, a person hears about it most often in an elementary school, but I believe it can be used in elementary and middle school to promote reading and literacy.
At Scotts Creek School in Sylva, NC, the students and staff have celebrated Read Across America week for the past two years. Scotts Creek School has students from kindergarten to eighth grade. This poses a challenge since the school has many grade levels and such a large age range, but Read Across America is a celebration that can be used to promote reading in all grade levels with the right events and activities.
The first year we celebrated Read Across America at Scotts Creek, grades kindergarten through sixth grade were involved. The goal and focus of the week was to promote reading by modeling for students that reading is not only an academic requirement, but it is also used in careers and personal enjoyment. Students so often are only told to read but do not see adults modeling the importance of reading for them.
Each day students dressed up to correspond with a Dr. Seuss book and we had an event that promoted the reading. For example, on Tuesday students dressed up for Oh the Places You’ll Go! by dressing up like what they want to be when they grow up or the university/college they would like to attend. The activity for the day was having staff members who do not have homerooms go in the classrooms to read to the students. When the staff members read their favorite books, they were encouraged to share why it was their favorite book and why reading is important to them.
Another activity that week was having community members come in and read to the students. We invited community members from different types of jobs and positions to come in the school to read their favorite Dr. Seuss book. The community guests were also encouraged to share why reading is important to their careers and their personal enjoyment as well as share information about their jobs.
The last event I want to highlight for the first year is “Reading Buddies.” The classroom teachers matched up so that younger students were with older students and on Thursday the students read together. This allowed the younger students to see the older students reading and for some students, the younger students read to the older students. This was a great way to meet the needs of all the students without making any struggles stand out.
Read Across America during Covid
The second year we did Read Across America at Scotts Creek had the same focus and goal and involved all the students at the school, K-8, but it looked very different because of health restrictions due to COVID-19. COVID-19 meant there were remote-only students, middle school students were only there two days a week, and the K-5 students were there four days a week with everyone remote on Wednesdays. To involve all the students each day, we had to make a lot of adjustments to the week. We also decided to change from the theme being Dr. Seuss to following the NEA theme of “Celebrating a Nation of Diverse Readers” (NEA n.d.). We changed the dress-up days to be reading days and included things like “Reading Gives You Superpowers” where students dressed up as superheroes, and “Fan Favorite Day” with students dressing up as their favorite book character. We included Dr. Seuss day where students dressed up as a Dr. Seuss character and incorporated our leadership program by doing “Today Readers, Tomorrow Leaders” where students dressed up as their future career or university/college.
To meet the health requirements, we adapted the activities while also keeping our focus of modeling for students the importance of reading. Instead of the staff members going into the classrooms to read, they recorded themselves and the videos were sent out to the classroom teachers to show during the day. This allowed the teachers to also send the link to the remote-only students so they could participate in the week as well. We were able to have community members participate again thanks to Google Meet, and we had nine community guests virtually meet with our students and model their love of reading with their favorite book. Again, because it was online, students at home were able to participate even though they were remote. The other big change to the activities was the “Reading Buddies.” Students from different classes were not allowed mix so they could not meet with a buddy class to read together so we had “virtual reading buddies.” Seventh- and eighth-grade students recorded themselves reading a book, and we created a folder of all the videos so teachers and students could watch as many as they wanted.
The two years of Read Across America week were different because of health restrictions, but there were successes from both and showed it promoted reading. When the staff members went in the classrooms the first year, several staff reported they enjoyed it so much and the students responded so well they had already made plans with the teacher to do it on a regular basis. There were also several classes that made plans together to continue the reading buddies. During the second year, there were students who enjoyed the recorded readings by the staff members enough they asked their teacher if they could watch books that were recorded for other grade levels. Finally, the “virtual reading buddies” brought middle school students out of their shells and they have continued to record videos to send out to teachers and are even meeting live with some younger students to read at least twice a week.
National Education Association. n.d. “Read Across America: Frequently Asked Questions.” https://www.nea.org/resource-library/read-across-america-frequently-asked-questions#:~:text=Launched%20in%201998%20by%20the,are%20about%20everyone%2C%20for%20everyone.
Author: Grace Powell
Grace Powell is the Media Coordinator at Scotts Creek School.