CHESTERFIELD, Va. - Silver tiaras, blue wigs, bouncy hats, and Army olive green uniforms filled the classrooms at Hopkins Elementary School here in celebration of Dr. Seuss' 114th birthday on March 2, 2018. Eighteen Soldiers from the 80th Training Command took time to read to the school children to celebrate Seuss' birthday.
National Read Across America Day is an annual, nationwide event that is part of the Read Across America program, an initiative on reading that was created by the National Education Association. Each year, the National Read Across America Day is celebrated on the school day closest to March 2, in memory of Dr. Seuss. The NEA's Read Across America Day encourages children in every community to read aloud. Thousands of schools, libraries, and community centers participate by bringing together books, children, teenagers, and volunteer readers.
Theodor Seuss Geisel was born on March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts. He published his first children's book, "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," under the name of Dr. Seuss in 1937. After his initial hit, he went on to write numerous best sellers, including "The Cat in the Hat," "Horton Hears a Who," and "Green Eggs and Ham."
Christy Smith is the reading specialist at Hopkins, where approximately 600 pre-school through fifth grade students are taught. She said the school has celebrated the famous author's birthday for more than 10 years. The 15-year-veteran of education says that celebrating Dr. Seuss' birthday is a great opportunity to teach children not only how to read, but to teach a love for reading.
Smith said the teachers, staff and students like to celebrate big by dressing up as characters from their favorite children's books. Many of them dressed up as characters from Seuss' popular books, such as "The Cat in the Hat," "There's a Wocket in My Pocket," and "Oh, The Things You Can Think." Others dressed up as characters from a variety of children's books, such as "Charlotte's Web" and "Amelia Bedelia."
Smith explained that the mission of Dr. Seuss' celebration and Read Across America Day is to introduce every child to good quality literature. She said it involves more than simply giving them books. She explained that reading aloud to children promotes language comprehension and helps children to imagine being the characters in the stories.
"Reading aloud to children gets them to put themselves in the books and experience things through other people and characters," Smith said. "This does a lot in expanding their knowledge and helps them become better readers."
A large part of their reading success, according to Smith, is due to the support the school receives from the children's families as well as local communities. Part of this support comes from military men and women in the communities.
"Inviting the Soldiers here to the school means a lot to not only the kids, but to the parents and teachers as well," said Smith. "Our kids look up to the Soldiers and see them as role models, and we absolutely love that."
As the 80th TC Family Programs coordinator, Mrs. Fran Mitchell explained that part of the Family Programs mission is to foster positive relationships with Soldiers' families. This includes developing partnerships with communities and schools.
"Read Across America is a fantastic way to have our Soldiers volunteer their time, share fun stories and read to children who are still learning to read," said Mitchell. "Having our Soldiers in uniform commanded the children's undivided attention."
In addition to donating time to read, the school invites community members to donate children's books. The Hopkins teachers and staff invite everyone to visit the orange box outside in front of the school.
In the orange box is a wide variety of kids' books where anyone can drop off book donations. Smith calls it a "Give one, take one" recycling method. This means children can choose any books they like from the orange box and take them home for their own personal enjoyment. Once they are finished reading them, they can bring them back, drop them in the box, and take another book home. However, if children want to keep them, that's perfectly fine.
"I love it when kids want to keep the books, because, to me, that means they really want it and will enjoy it many times," Smith said. "We also welcome soldiers to donate children's books."
Taking time out of a busy schedule to read to the school children meant a lot to Brig. Gen. Fletcher Washington, the deputy commanding general of the 80th TC. He believes the Read Across America Day is a great way to help school children achieve their full potential.
"I believe it makes reading fun," said Washington. "I think a child who is well read is more likely to excel, and more likely to attend college, than a child who does not read."
According to Washington, it's beneficial for children to interact with service members, since often times they tend to have preconceived notions when they see people in the military uniform.
"I think they equate the uniform to what they see in the movies: guns, killing, war and fighting," said Washington. "Being read to by Soldiers in uniform broadens their horizons and shows them there are so many more facets to being a Soldier and that we are just as human and normal as their teachers, their parents and everyday adults."
However, it's not just the school children who benefit from celebrating Dr. Seuss' birthday.
"Children are our future, so for me, there's no greater joy than to see a child smile, laugh and show genuine excitement for education," Washington said. "It gives me hope and encouragement that our future will be secure with them leading it."
Smith explained that the take-away from this celebration of reading is that the school children learn to connect with hearing good quality literature. She hopes they also see the connection with reading and their future accomplishments.
"We want our kids to see the benefits of being a life-long reader," said Smith. "We love having the Soldiers here to show the children great examples of how important it is to being life-long readers. When the kids experience Soldiers reading out loud to them, they start to understand the connection between reading and successes in life."