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  • The Engaging Classroom

Books About Everyone, for Everyone, in NEA’s Read Across America

Sharyl Kay Lawson
 | Mar 03, 2020

Children reading books on floorThe world is filled with many different kinds of people. Getting to know them is interesting, exciting, and fun. The same can be said about the world’s books. Cracking open a good book is to understand that the world is far richer than just our own individual experiences.

As a special education teacher at Kemp Elementary School in Commerce City, CO, students are at the center of everything I do. I strive to connect with all students, to discover their passions, and to unlock their potential. Introducing new books to my students inspires their natural curiosity, imagination, and love of learning.

That’s why I’m excited my school will soon benefit from a Read Across America grant from the National Education Association (NEA) that will bring 1,000 books into the school districts of Adams County, north of Denver and a rural school district outside Colorado Springs.

Receiving a portion of this generous grant will help my school overcome two barriers that hold educators back from providing the rich literary experiences that help every student thrive. First, new, quality reading materials can be hard to come by in Colorado, a state that currently lags about $2,700 behind the national average in per-pupil funding. We struggle mightily providing the resources our students need to become successful readers in and, in turn, successful contributors to our communities. Even a modest, one-time infusion of new literary resources will create countless learning opportunities for today’s students and the ones to come to us in future years.

So, yes, I’m excited about the things money can buy for my classroom, but I’m also very impressed by the focus in diversity NEA took in awarding Read Across America grants to Colorado and other state affiliates. There’s a growing need for schools and libraries in my district and across the United States to include and promote diverse books. Students need books that capture their life experiences if we are going to create more readers, writers, and people who feel included and recognized in our multicultural society.

Readers who feel included, recognized, and a part of the world are engaged readers. In the variety of NEA-recommended titles we’ll receive, students will see their experiences mirrored by characters in some books, making them feel valued and welcome in school. In other books, students will see a world or a character that will be much different from their own experience, challenging them to learn about and build empathy for the lives other people lead, perhaps even their own classmates.

Aligning the largest celebration of reading in the U.S. with a fresh take on celebrating a diverse nation of readers is masterful. NEA launched Read Across America in 1998 to motivate kids to read and bring the joys of reading to students of all ages, offering limitless opportunities to get communities involved in our children’s reading throughout the year. Most students and parents have associated Read Across America with the big celebrations of reading on March 2, Dr. Seuss’s birthday, and throughout National Reading Month in March. Dr. Seuss reading parties are fun and engaging; they’ll no doubt continue in our schools. My hope for Read Across America, though, is that it grows in our national conscious as something bigger than a single-day event paying homage to a certain set of classic books. Read Across America is a year-round program that can fit reading fun and discovery into daily, weekly, and monthly calendars with older and newer books about everyone, for everyone.

Educators, families, and the community at large can celebrate Read Across America with students anytime with these activities:

  • Share NEA’s recommended early grade picture books, middle grade stories, and young adult titles in your school and community. Read these books with kids and use Read Across America’s resources daily to promote the message that there is room in our community for all readers.
  • Use Read Across America to help kids relate what they read to other experiences in their lives and on the school year calendar (e.g., Hispanic Heritage Month, a school science fair, Memorial Day). Include guest readers, activities, and conversation about reading as you raise awareness about the importance, value, and fun of reading throughout the year.
  • Make your community the place where Read Across America is on everyone’s calendar. When all people—teenagers to parents to grandparents—make the time to read with children, children get the message that reading is important. Governors, mayors, and other elected officials can recognize the role reading plays in their communities with proclamations and floor statements. Athletes, actors, and local celebrities can issue reading challenges to young readers. Any person can participate in Read Across America to help motivate kids to read, celebrate the diversity in our communities, and bring reading excitement to children of all ages.
  • Visit NEA’s tools and resources to get the help you need to rock Read Across America and bring a reading celebration to your community. Contact your local school, education association, library, or bookstore about planning an event or participating in one.
  • Sign up on the NEA page on the First Book Marketplace to find NEA-recommended diverse book titles. First Book makes these titles available at affordable prices to educators serving students in need.

School is a place where discovery happens. When educators nurture the love of learning in students today, we are growing tomorrow’s inventors, thinkers, artists, and leaders. Celebrating a nation of diverse readers is an important way to become our very best community and country.

Sharyl Kay Lawson is a special education teacher at Kemp Elementary School in Adams County School District 14 in Colorado.

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