There was a tense moment Tuesday morning at Riverwood Elementary School as Carolina Mudcats mascot Muddy the Mudcat went classroom to classroom handing out pencils and high-fives.
Upon seeing the 7-foot tall catfish in a baseball uniform stride into the classroom, one student put his head down, his shoulders trembling.
“Is he really crying?” one student asked aloud.
No one seemed to know.
Classrooms often welcome the fictional world, but know one can no for sure how students will react to a baseball-loving bottom feeder. But the Riverwood student raised his head, revealing laughter instead of sobs. More high-fives followed.
Joining Muddy at Riverwood were the Cat in the Hat and executives from the N.C. Association of Educators, who all came to the school for national Read Across America Day. The visitors went classroom to classroom offering a story.
This is the 19th year for the literacy-promoting event in which students at all grade levels set aside time to read something they enjoy.
Mark Jewell, vice president of the NCAE, was carrying around a stack of books. He found that technology in the classroom has its limits – an iPad can’t do the voice of the cartoon goat, and tablets don’t show the pictures.
“I still love to have the paper in my hands, to flip the pages,” Jewell said. “We’re constantly competing with technology these days, but I just don’t think it’s the same to read from a tablet.”
Riverwood celebrated reading all week, with a full slate of visiting readers and each day offering a new wardrobe theme for students. Tuesday was pajama day.
Jewell said it was particularly important at the elementary school level to try to develop a love of reading. He stressed the difference between looking at words on a page or screen and trying to explore the meaning behind them.
“This is our signature event; it’s that important that we promote a love of reading,” Jewell said. “Reading is the basis for all learning. Oftentimes we don’t completely read; we just scan. When we do that, we lose a sense of depth and background. We can’t get down to the author’s intent.”
Read Across America Day coincides with Dr. Seuss’ birthday, and many classrooms have students huddled around chairs hearing about fish of different colors and what pairs best with an order of green eggs.
Riverwood Elementary assistant principal Daniel Kerwin called Seuss the king of children’s literature.
“There’s such a parade of characters,” he said. “The books are for all ages. Adults read them and can find something different each time. I remember in my college graduation, the keynote speaker read from ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go.’ It really talks about the journey in life and how the life we lead will be unexpected.”
Kerwin said Riverwood students are mostly enthusiastic about reading, and few students face substantial obstacles to reading. The burden is on educators, he said, to help students find the subjects they’re interested in.
“The kids are ready to learn,” Kerwin said. “They do a great job and really want to read. We just have to help them find out what they’re interested in, because then it becomes a passion for them. And you have to have reading in your life. Every life skill requires reading; it’s the foundation of the way we communicate.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdjackson