Friday, March 11, 2011

This Post Will Not Be Written in Trisyllabic Meter

Last week, you probably had at least one friend who swapped out his or her profile picture for an image of the The Cat in the Hat. Maybe they even started tweeting end rhymes in trisyllabic meter. If I had to guess, those friends are probably teachers.

Guest reader, Dr. Lesley Morrow, visits Bradley Elementary
Shool in Asbury Park, NJ for Read Across America
March 2 was Dr. Seuss's birthday which is the date NEA chose to coincide with Read Across America, an annual reading and motivation awareness program that calls for every child in every community to celebrate reading.

Read Across America is a pretty big deal and Classroom Close-up, NJ covers the event at one or more schools every year. So last week, I headed down the shore to check out the festivities at Bradley Elementary School in Asbury Park. Amid a sea of red and white striped hats, a rally of guest readers and educators had no problem getting the students excited about reading.

I'm not going go on and on about the importance of developing early reading skills. You can Google up all the details later if you want, but the summary is this:

A child that isn't reading at level by fourth grade, probably never will. This will greatly reduce the odds of that child achieving a successful and happy life.

Story book village was just one of the fun activities
going on at Bradley E.S. last week.
A few weeks ago, I was feeling a bit guilty about not always teaching while I read with my kids. Last week I sat across from a teacher whose voice cracked a little when he told me about children who had never had a book read to them at home. About children that had no books at home. About children who couldn't name a favorite book.

Now if that sounds like some kind of attempt to put blame on parents for struggling schools, believe me it's not. I don't know every family's situation and Asbury Park is a complicated place faced with a lot of challenges. It was what I saw in the face of some of those challenges that really stuck with me.

I like to ask about the schools I visit on location. How old is this building? How many elementary schools do you have? How many kids in this school? I'm not keeping a record, I'm just curious. It was during one of these casual chats near the end of last week's shoot that I learned that the district was in the midst of deciding whether or not to close one of it's three elementary schools,  Barack H. Obama Elementary School, the first school named after the current president. The final decision, whether it's closure or reorganization will have a tremendous impact on the students, the staff, and community.

I've never worked in a school, but I do know from my own experiences what it's like when a company reorganizes, closes its offices, and let's people go. What happens when they move the cheese all over the place. The mice run around like crazy. They  freak out. They get distracted. Things don't get done or at least they don't get done well. Last week at Bradley, I never would have known anything like this was going on. All I saw was educators getting kids excited about reading and a community proud of their school.

Who doesn't?
I try hard not to delve too deeply into the politics of public education when I write about Classroom Close-up. It's not what the show is about. But this simple little story about a reading celebration suddenly has my mind turning about things like the value of programs such as Head Start and current socioeconomic policies. Thinking crazy ideas like maybe it would be better to cut out twelfth grade so we could spend that money on universal preschool. That maybe if we stopped calling it "pre" school, people wouldn't devalue it so much. I mean, when my four-year-old and I talk about it, we just call it "school" because that's what it is.

Before I started this post, I hunted around for some memorable Dr. Seuss quotes to sprinkle around. This was one of the first I found:

"Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple." 

"Great!" I thought. "I can definitely make this work."

Then I realized that in this case, Dr. Seuss was only right about the complicated part.

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