Local students celebrated “Read Across America” last week with Dr. Seuss-themed festivities.
Last Tuesday, Mayor Jim Kenney and state Rep. Ed Neilson visited the John Hancock Demonstration School, 3700 Morrell Ave, for “Read Across America Week.” Kenney and Neilson wore Dr. Seuss hats and read his classic Green Eggs and Ham story to a group of first-graders.
This past year, Hancock celebrated its 50th anniversary in the fall with a picnic. The public school has been a staple in Morrell for decades, but a new tradition started eight years ago has brought the school some attention.
Sandy Vaughan, first-grade teacher at Hancock, thought of the idea of inviting local officials back to the public school to read as a good way to remind them about the important work the School District of Philadelphia does.
“I began asking elected officials to be guest readers because I wanted them to be able to see the success of a Philadelphia public school,” said Vaughan. “I felt that the school district received so much negative publicity and there was a need to see the positive side of the district.”
Bridget Collins-Greenwald, commissioner of the city Department of Public Property, is a close friend of Vaughan and was the first guest she invited to the school eight years ago. Since the first year, the school has since hosted former Managing Director Rich Negrin, former Mayor Michael Nutter, City Councilman Al Taubenberger, Police Commissioner Richard Ross, Kenney twice; once while campaigning and again this year, Collins-Greenwald, Deputy Managing Director, Tommy Conway and Neilson.
The students huddled on a mat in the library in front of Kenney and Neilson as they listened to the story. Parents of the students provided Dr. Seuss-themed “treats”. The readers and students are provided with green eggs and ham to eat at the conclusion of the story.
Neilson has participated in the event every year since 2012 and believes it is crucial to stress to the students the benefits of reading.
“Reading is a habit we want to get our students hooked on,” said Neilson. “That is why the Read Across America initiative is so important. It shows our kids that reading can empower them with the ability to broaden their horizons and reminds them that learning is fun.”
With the event having gone on for almost a decade now, Vaughan believes it has left a positive impact on past students.
“One of my favorite parts of this yearly event is the excitement is brings out in all of the children. They may not be 100 percent sure who the guest is but they see how the event gains momentum and comes together successfully,” said Vaughan. “The children enjoy the day as first-grade students, but the absolute best is when they come back years later and tell me this was one of their best memories from elementary school.”
For William Griffin, principal, he believes events like these show how much the elected officials care about the school district.
“For our school community, this event shows us that the mayor, state representative, police commissioner, councilmen and other public officials care about our students, schools and communities,” said Griffin. “We also take this opportunity to show off our school, highlighting the work and accomplishments of our students.”
Each year, some members of the school administration take the elected officials on a tour. ••
John Cole can be reached at JCole@bsmphilly.com