Readers = Leaders

County’s K-5 classrooms celebrate receipt of 100 books each

From left, Leah Fuqua, Nicole Spottswood, Michele McClung
Toya McMillian dances with Plory to the delight of the students.

News Staff Writer

Escambia County School System administrators agree with teachers that reading is the most fundamental lesson a child must master in order to gain a successful education that will carry him or her into adulthood.
Hundreds of students from the three local schools that include grades K-5 — Rachel Patterson Elementary (RPES), Huxford Elementary (HES) and Escambia County Middle School (ECMS) — gathered at RPES last Thursday, December 1, to celebrate the recent purchase of 100 age- and grade-appropriate books for each of the county’s classrooms at those grade levels.
“What we’ve done, we’ve given every elementary teacher in the entire county, grades K-5, 100 books for their classroom,” explained Superintendent of Education Michele McClung. “They now have their own classroom libraries, where they can check books out, and they have access to an extra 100 books. This is kind of a kickoff for that.”
The classroom library project reportedly marks the first system-wide implementation of such an initiative within Alabama’s public schools.
Elementary Curriculum Supervisor Nicole Spottswood said there are 96 K-5 classrooms within the county system, and each got its own library. She agreed that the importance of reading at such ages cannot be magnified enough.
“Early reading sparks creativity and curiosity and stimulates the imagination in young children,” she said. “Research tells us that reading books expands a child’s vocabulary and critical thinking skills. Reading allows a child to understand various emotions which helps in their social and emotional development.”
The celebration, dubbed “Readers Make Leaders Day,” included ECMS cheerleaders who encouraged the students to “Read! Read! Read!”
Huxford’s contingent caught the eye of everyone present. Principal Leah Fuqua was dressed as The Grinch, and HES teachers and students from each grade level dressed as storybook characters.
The youngsters, caught up in the excitement of the gathering, had to be quieted down several times by teachers who shook fingers and even blew whistles to bring them back in line. That decorum evaporated when Plory, who is featured in several iReady educational videos, entered the school cafeteria.
Matt Swann, chief technology officer for iReady Learning, and Brian Rhodes of BBB Educational Enterprises, also attended the gathering.
The cartoon character was soon dancing with RPES Principal Toya McMillian, and a “chorus line” of educators and administrators danced to recorded music in front of the stage. Josh Parker translated all the goings-on in sign language for students with hearing impairments.
“We had a blast,” McMillian said. “Seeing our students’ faces definitely made all of the hard work worth it. Our classroom libraries were becoming worn and torn and were in desperate need of being replaced. The donation of 100 books for each classroom was huge. This donation … has been a game-changer for our school. This is definitely what we needed, and exactly when we needed it.”
Forrest Jones, principal at ECMS, agreed. He said various reading initiatives are already paying off at his school, which has fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms.
“It really is a big thing,” he said of the newest influx of reading material. “Mrs. McClung and the school board have done a great job of providing our staff with materials to promote reading. The kids are loving the new push on reading. We’re seeing benefits already, and this is just the beginning.”
Shannon Martin, literacy specialist at RPES, said the classroom libraries should make her job a little less strenuous.
“Hopefully, it will make my job easier,” she said, laughing that it could mark the end of her current position. “Hopefully, It will instill a love of reading in the children. If it works me out of a job, that’s OK, as long as they’re reading and learning what they read.”
The teachers seemed to share those feelings.
MacKenzie Evans, who teachers second grade at HES, said she is “very, very excited about (the new books),” while Madison Carpenter, a math teacher at ECMS, explained that reading skills are translated across the educational spectrum.
“I think it’s great,” she said. “I teach math, but it’s always great for kids to be able to pick up books, after they do their work, and have a few minutes to read. Also, if you can’t read, you can’t understand a word problem.”