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A week of story time has gone virtual for students at Jefferson Elementary, who have guest readers attending their Zoom classes as part of Read Across America this week.

Sixteen guest readers were assigned to read to Jefferson’s transitional kindergarten to fourth grade classes, picking a picture book of their choosing to read aloud to students. Jefferson has participated in Read Across America for a number of years, though this year is the first time it’s been done over video.

“We worked with the guests' schedules and the teachers' preference. Transitioning to a ‘digital’ Read Across America was rather simple. The teachers are great with adapting and the students are resilient. Teachers planned art activities, writing activities and reading activities to correspond with Read Across America,” said Jefferson Principal Susan Yakich.

The school set aside a two-hour time every day that guests could choose from to read during. Guest readers include community members, school and district staff, nurses and more.

While having guest readers is a foundational part of Read Across America, a countrywide event put together by the National Education Association, the week is also about encouraging students to read more. The theme for Read Across America at Jefferson this year is “The more you read, the smarter you’ll be,” Yakich said, adding that students are encouraged to read poetry, comic books, magazines, fiction and nonfiction.

On Tuesday, students were also encouraged to wear their favorite Dr. Suess-inspired clothing in honor of Suess’ birthday.

This year’s Read Across America event also coincides with a reading challenge fundraiser put on by the Jefferson PTA. According to Yakich, students raise money based on how many minutes they read each day of a two-week period. Students who participated are invited to a virtual dance party and if the fundraiser reaches its goal of $5,000, Yakich and Jefferson Dean of Students Robin Murdock will reward students by subjecting themselves to some less-than-ideal situations — eating gross flavored jelly beans, having eggs cracked on their heads and spraying silly string on one another.

As of March 2, the fundraiser had raised $4,000, and it ends on March 5. Yakich said that just about all of Jefferson’s students and families are participating in the reading challenge.

“I'm confident we will reach our goal and I'm preparing to be egged and I'm not looking forward to eating BeanBoozled Jelly Beans! We will eat a jelly bean for every $500 raised,” she said.

While having guest readers and hosting reading challenge fundraisers can be fun for students, it’s also part of a larger effort to encourage reading and literacy among students.

“Building foundational reading skills at the primary grades and developing a love of learning for all grades is important whether we are in distance learning or in person learning,” Yakich said. “It's important students be read aloud to to hear the rhyme and rhythm of words, build their vocabulary, learn about the world around them and have fun! Reading with someone builds connections and trust. There's comfort in snuggling up to a good book and cuddling with a family member. Fond memories are built around reading.”

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