Monroe public schools come together to share a love of reading

A first grade class watches a video of Assistant Superintendent of Schools Jack Ceccolini reading "Outside, Inside," by LeUyen Pham.

MONROE, CT — Every year, more than 60 volunteers visit Monroe’s grades K-5 classrooms for the Celebration of Reading. Though outside visitors are restricted this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a creative solution allowed the annual event to be held without a hitch.

“Thinking outside the box, the school administration chose to have one reader per grade record their sharing of the book that was then aired on March 2 to each class,” said Sheila Casinelli, director of instruction and professional development for the school district.

The Monroe Rotary Club sponsored this year’s event, in collaboration with Turning the Page, a bookstore in Monroe, which supplied the books. The Celebration of Reading was held in conjunction with Read Across America Day.

Kindergartners enjoyed the book, “I Promise,” by LeBron James.

Rotary Club members read the Kindergarten book, “I Promise,” by LeBron James, an inspiring picture book showing how “success starts with the promise we make to ourselves and our community.”

Dan Keene, a rotarian, said he believes teachers across all grade levels should play the video for “I Promise” to their classes, a recording which is approximately three minutes long.

The message in the book is wonderful,” he said.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Jack Ceccolini read “Outside, Inside,” by LeUyen Pham to first grade students. The moving picture book celebrates essential workers and highlights how communities came together in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As first graders have been living through this pandemic, they could relate to the feelings of the characters and the message of hope in the story,” Casinelli said. “The author and illustrator used actual pictures from the pandemic as inspiration in her illustrations, along with faces of people she knows, making the book even more personal to the events of the last year.”

Darleen Fensore, director of student support services, reads “Eyes that Kiss in the Corners,” by Joanna Ho to second graders.

Darleen Fensore, director of student support services, read Joanna Ho’s book, “Eyes that Kiss in the Corners,” to second graders.

In the story, a young Asian girl notices that her eyes look different from her classmates, who have big round eyes with long eyelashes. Once at home, she sees that her eyes are like her mother’s, grandmother’s and little sister’s. Hearing stories from the past, the young girl embraces her own beauty and the connection to her family.

Jennifer Parsell, assistant director of student support services, shared the grade three book entitled, “The Proudest Blue,” by Ibtihaj Muhammad. Two sisters are heading to school on the first day and the older sister is wearing her hijab to class. There are comments from some classmates and the story illustrates how the girls handle it.

Jennifer Parsell, assistant director of student support services, reads “The Proudest Blue,” by Ibtihaj Muhammad.

In the book, the girls’ mother tells them, “don’t carry around the hurtful words that others say. Drop them. They are not yours to keep. They belong only to those who said them.”

The author is an Olympic medalist and social justice activist.

Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza read, “How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion,” by Ashima Shiraiski to fourth graders.

Fourth graders heard a reading of “How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion,” by Ashima Shiraiski.

The young author is one of the most talented rock climbers in the world and the story is about how she approaches obstacles when climbing and in life:

Facing a rock wall is like facing a problem in life. You need to look at it and figure out how to solve it. You will try and fall, try again and fall again, but you keep trying until you succeed. With each fall you learn something to improve upon for the next time. Life’s lessons. 

“With COVID restrictions, we are not sure how our incoming grade five students will be able to visit the middle school, so we asked Jockey Hollow Principal Mike Crowley to read our final story entitled, ‘A Computer Called Katherine,’ by Suzanne Slade, so the students would know who their principal will be next year,” Casinelli said.

Jockey Hollow Principal Mike Crowley reads “A Computer Called Katherine,” by Suzanne Slade to his future students.

“A Computer Called Katherine” is an inspiring story of Katherine Johnson, an African American who became one of NASA’s “computers.”

“Katherine was a bright young girl who persevered and excelled, starting college at 15-years-old, and eventually joining NASA,” Casinelli said.

Johnson’s calculations helped NASA put the first manned flight into space, have the first manned orbit of the Earth, and the first trip to the moon.

‘A wonderful tradition’

Staff members from Fawn Hollow, Monroe and Stepney elementary schools praised the book selections and format of the event.

“The Celebration of Reading is an event I look forward to every year,” said Leigh Metcalf Ances, principal of Fawn Hollow. “I am thankful that we could still continue this wonderful tradition in a virtual format this year. The books were wonderful with themes centered around coming together in challenging times, being your best and social justice. I know our fifth-grade students especially enjoyed ‘meeting’ their new middle school principal Mr. Michael Crowley.”

Kelly Svendsen, principal of Monroe Elementary School, also said she was pleased with the virtual format.

“All classes had the opportunity to hear the Rotary Club members read, ‘I Promise,’ by Lebron James. The book shared a powerful message that better tomorrows start with the promises we make to ourselves and each other today. Now, more than ever, that seems true and it was great to share that message with all of our students.”

The three elementary reading consultants, Kim Nelly at Fawn Hollow, Sharon McCauley at Monroe Elementary, and Shannon Wassmann at Stepney, worked with Casinelli and Pia Ledina, from Turning the Page, to select the books for this year’s Celebration.

“We are fortunate to have a local bookstore to provide book ideas and aid with ordering the books each year,” Casinelli said. “Special thanks to the Monroe Rotary for financially supporting the purchase of the books again this year.”

“We’re happy to sponsor and so happy that this made an impact,” Keene said.

“We really appreciate the opportunity to share in the Celebration of Reading,” said Kathleen Bailey, president of the Monroe Rotary. “It is such a great program and we are so happy to sponsor it and provide the schools with new books for the students to learn to read and enjoy.”

“The Monroe Celebration of Reading provides our whole district the opportunity to come together to share our love of reading,” Kobza said. “Many thanks to the Monroe Rotary Club. They have consistently supported the mission of the Monroe public schools, and did it once again by purchasing the books to be shared with each class.”

“While it looked a little different this year with books being read virtually, the spirit of the program remains,” he said. “We look forward to getting all of our guest readers back in next year.”

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