Michaela Johnson, anchor of the Rhode Show, visited earlier in the week and Governor Lincoln Chafee and Mayor Scott Avedisian stopped in yesterday.
From all the high visibility celebrities, it would seem that John Brown Francis School is a pretty special place.
But John Brown Francis isn’t the only school with out of the ordinary visitors this month. That’s because it’s “Reading Week.”
Actually, explains second grade teacher Sandra Noonan, schools get to choose what week during April is reading week.
Kathy Desrosiers, supervisor of English Language Arts for Warwick Schools, said the official Reading Week is traditionally the first week in April, set down by the Rhode Island State Council of the International Reading Association (IRA).
However, for various reasons such as field-testing for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC), schools throughout the district are allowed to distinguish any week in April as Reading Week, typically prior to spring vacation.
“We allow some flexibility in the schools,” said Desrosiers. “Schools have chosen weeks that work for them.”
Annual Reading Weeks also have themes, determined by the Council of the IRA. This year’s theme was Experiment With A Good Book. Schools celebrated the theme in different ways according to Desrosiers, such as a thermometer to show how close a class was to their goal of how many minutes they would read for the week or reading specialists donning lab coats to visit classrooms and hear poetry.
The Council is also putting together a poetry anthology called “Investigate the Earth,” filled with science-based poems written by students.
“It encourages students to realize there are different ways to write across the curriculum,” said Desrosiers.
And for those who may dismiss “Reading Week” as just a good excuse to show off schools to community leaders, or worse, for readers to give teachers a classroom break, think again.
Noonan, who has been teaching elementary students for 24 years, says “Reading Week” serves to focus attention on the importance of reading while generating excitement with the introduction of new faces into the classroom. She said students really get excited about having someone come in and read.
Of course, the kids often get to ask questions of their readers, learning something about being governor, mayor, police chief or weather forecaster.
Not all the invited readers are celebrities, or, at least they weren’t at one time.
Because even parents are required to have background checks before participating in school activities, Noonan said they have had to rely more and more on high profile personalities, including elected officials, school administrators and news reporters to read to the children.
“It’s sad they can’t come in,” Noonan said of parents.
Reading Week is not a one-way street.
That was evident yesterday when Avedisian read “How to Negotiate Everything” to second-graders.
“I’m going to see if I’ve learned anything,” he said as he opened the book telling the story of a boy who negotiated his desire to eat ice cream by negotiating with his mother to eat all his vegetables with the exception of the broccoli. After his success with the ice cream, the boy held out for a pet. He wanted an elephant.
Avedisian had the class’ attention. After stressing the importance of meeting people halfway, he had to conclude the mother’s emphatic “no” was on target.
“This is where setting expectations too high doesn’t work,” he said. “You don’t always get what you want.”
He went on to quiz the students, asking what lessons they had learned from the book. He agreed with the observation that being polite pays off, adding that goals can be achieved through compromise.
For the mayor, and that matter many of the officials called upon as readers, Reading Week is an opportunity to meet students face-to-face and talk with teachers and school administrators.
Last week, Superintendent Richard D’Agostino stopped by Dr. Laura Falvey’s third grade class at Cedar Hill to read to the class for their Reading Week. He said he reads all the time to his own son, who is also in the third grade.
“Reading is the most important thing you can learn,” said D’Agostino to the students, adding that by learning to read the students will have the ability to read directions and therefore learn more as they grow.
“If I could teach only one thing, it would be reading,” said D’Agostino.
He elaborated that reading is one of the single most important things you can learn because then you can read anything, like a recipe or instructions and learn how to do more.
To those who say having adults come into the class to read doesn’t do much, D’Agostino disagrees.
“I think it’s sending a message to kids that even as adults, we still read,” he said. “The kids take away that reading is important. We have these busy people taking time to come into the school and read to them.”
School Committee member Eugene Nadeau visited John Brown Francis to read to students on Monday, and he enjoys it almost as much as the kids.
“I just like going into the schools and seeing what they’re doing,” he said, adding that he likes to get as much participation from the students as possible when he reads to them. “I love it, and I see their reaction. They’re so eager to read.”
But Reading Week is not just visits from local celebrities for a 20-minute reading session.
Randall Holden Elementary School celebrated Reading Week with a special assembly celebration and ice cream social yesterday. During the assembly, each grade stood up to recite a poem or cheer about reading; the fourth and fifth grades even sang songs about their love of books.
“The kids seem to have a blast with Reading Week, and their teachers have so many great things planned,” said Principal Ken Rassler.
Rassler believes Reading Week provides the opportunity to show kids how important reading is. Even though they read every day in school, they don’t always know why.
“Reading can take them so many places,” said Rassler.
While Randall Holden did also have professional storytellers and guest readers, Rassler believes it has a great impact on his students just hearing others read to them.
“It gives them a chance to expand their bounds,” he said.
He added that Reading Week is an overall good experience for the students, and a relaxing and fun week.
Yesterday’s celebration was also used to congratulate the school on having the highest NECAP scores for the second year in a row.
“This is a culmination, they’re going to tie in reading and NECAP, NECAP scores and how outstanding this school has done,” said D’Agostino, who stopped by the event. He told the students based on the results that have been released, they are the only school in the district to have 80 percent or higher proficient in all three areas, reading, writing and math.
“I have never been more proud of a group of students,” said Rassler. “I was so happy and so proud of you guys.”
Although the assembly started with the sixth grade leading the school in a “NECAP” chant, Rassler joked that will have to change when PARCC comes down next year.
For now, the students will continue to celebrate Reading Week until the end of April, and enjoy the many celebrity visits and special programs still to come.