MONROE, Conn. — Ilse Foster, 95, a retired school librarian, returned to Monroe Elementary School Monday morning to participate in the Celebration of Reading, a program that was underway in all of the town’s elementary schools, including Fawn Hollow and Stepney.
She pulled a children’s book out of her bag, which featured a picture of a girl behind the wheel of a race car. Big clouds of exhaust fumes were behind the car. It was “Vroom!” by Barbara McClintock.
“This is a good story,” Foster said with a smile, while mingling inside the media center with other adults volunteering to read to children. “I sometimes act like the character in the book. The kids love it.”
At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, Acting Superintendent Joseph Kobza noted how the Celebration of Reading was held on National Read Across America Day, which is Dr. Seuss’s birthday.
“Today, 64 community volunteers came in as guest speakers and read to 1,000 students,” said Kobza, who had read at Stepney.
Monroe Rotary steps up
Kobza thanked 2020 Celebration of Reading co-chairs Toya Jean-Gilles and Poonam Sahani, Pia Ledina of Turning the Page bookstore and the Monroe Rotary Club, which bought the books.
The books cost close to $900 and Jean-Gilles said the Rotary Club paid for most of it, with Rotary member, David Wolfe, privately donating the remaining $100 through his business, Wolfepromo.
“I volunteer at Monroe Elementary as often as I can and this event remains one of my favorite volunteering experiences,” Jean-Gilles said. “My co-chair Poonam and I are extremely grateful to the Rotary Club of Monroe and Wolfepromo for sponsoring this year’s books. In fact, they confirmed their support not long after learning more about the event’s longevity and guest reader participation by so many in our community year after year.”
“This is my first time volunteering for an event as big as this,” Sahani said. “I had a wonderful experience working with my co-chair Toya. We would like to extend our gratitude towards Pia Ledina from Turning The Page for ordering the books and making this event a success.”
“Monroe Rotary is very excited to sponsor the Celebration of Reading,” said Rotary President Katie Bailey. “Literacy is one of the Six Areas of Focus for Rotary International and we strive to help our community and especially the children. Literacy is the foundation in which learning is built for our youngest citizens and we hope to support this event for many years to come.”
“The Celebration of Reading is such a wonderful way for community and business leaders to reinforce the value and importance of reading to the children,” said Wolfe. “I always look forward to sharing my love for reading as a guest reader here in Monroe and in Trumbull, where one of my daughters is a teacher. Wolfepromo is pleased to help sponsor the event this year.”
A love of reading
Stepney Elementary School Principal Bruce Lazar said the Celebration of Reading is a wonderful way to link the town, and those who come to read, to children’s literature.
“I’d have to say from my experiences reading over the years that the students listen so intently and ask the best questions,” he said. “It is always a pleasure for myself and our guest readers tell me they always enjoy their time at Stepney. Dr. Seuss would be proud of Celebration of Reading.”
Fawn Hollow Principal Rebecca Kosisko said the Celebration of Reading is one of her favorite events of the year.
“Students learn that reading is something that happens inside and outside school as members of the community share good books and their love of reading,” she said. “Connections are made, which play out with an excited greeting or wave in the grocery store or at the park days later. It is a long-standing and joyful community-building activity that promotes literacy. We are grateful for all who make this day happen each year.”
“The Celebration of Reading is one that helps promote and foster not only a love of reading, but a love of our community,” Monroe Elementary School Principal Kelly Svendsen said. “Staff members from the past and valued community members come to school to read to all the children and the rooms buzz with excitement. It’s a day enjoyed by all!”
All walks of life
Celebration of Reading volunteers come from all walks of life, from retired educators to politicians, police officers and businesspeople.
Board of Education Chairwoman Donna Lane was going to read, “Rock What Ya Got,” by Samantha Berger, to her daughter Reagan, 7, and her second grade classmates.
“I think the event is extremely important, because the kids see people from around the community and Central Office, people they don’t see on a daily basis,” Lane said.
Lane said she would tell the children what the Board of Education does.
State Rep. J.P. Sredzinski, R-112th, was among the volunteers. “It’s important to read the book first,” he said. “There are times I have wept in the classroom when I didn’t know a story was so sad. There are emotional books.”
After a pep talk in the Monroe Elementary School media center, students arrived to take volunteers to classrooms in grades K to 5.
Foster was led to Cathy Murray’s kindergarten class. She told Murray she didn’t have candy, but brought a bag of stickers and other fun supplies for the children.
Foster’s face lit up when she walked into the room. “Oh, they’re so well behaved,” she marveled, then smiled at a little girl and said, “wait until you see the book I have.”
Murray had her students gather around on a carpet, while Foster took her seat in a wooden rocking chair. Looking into her bag, Foster said, “I have to get my glasses.”
Starting the story, she held up the cover of the book, “Vroom!”
“It’s a race car. Who do you think would be driving it?” Foster asked.
One student raised her hand and said it was a girl. “See?” Foster said. “We can do it all.”
Rock What Ya Got
In the parking lot after the event, Sredzinski was leaving after having read “Linus the Little Yellow Pencil” by Scott Magoon to Leslie Sekelsky’s first grade class.
“It was fantastic. The kids were well behaved,” he said. “We had a nice conversation about Linus and his struggles. He had confidence issues. He’s a pencil. Smudge, the pencil shaving pile, inspired him and we also talked about inspiring each other.”
Lane talked about the book she read, “Rock What Ya Got.”
“This is outstanding,” Lane said, explaining how an artist kept changing things she didn’t like, while drawing a girl. But then Viva, the little girl in the drawing, came to life.
“Viva says, ‘don’t change a thing. You have to be happy with who you are. Don’t try to change to conform with someone else. Rock what ya got,'” Lane said. “It was really about the artist’s own experiences as a kid. The child is her. She’s trying to conform and change, because she doesn’t like her curly black hair. There’s a very good lesson in it.”