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Read Across America is a highlight on the National Education Association’s calendar, and Idaho has a special tie to the annual event. Penni Cyr, now Idaho Education Association President, chaired the NEA board’s advisory committee for Read Across America from September 2009 through July 2011. And, oh, the places she went!

Cyr, who is on leave from her job as a teacher-librarian for the Moscow School District, was invited by NEA President Dennis Van Roekel to chair the advisory committee. In 2009, as the chair-elect at the NEA Representative Assembly in San Diego, Cyr joined other delegates and even two members of the Padres baseball team for a read-in outside PETCO Park. During the 2010 “Read Across” celebrations, she got to see First Lady Michelle Obama read at a celebration at the Library of Congress (where she also met Librarian of Congress James H. Billington). Cyr and other educators and children then fanned across the historic national library on Capitol Hill to read in small groups. From Washington, D.C., Cyr went to New York City for a Celebration of Teaching event that included Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia) and other noted children’s authors.  At the 2010 Representative Assembly in New Orleans, Cyr met “Thing 1 and Thing 2” of The Cat in the Hat fame.

Read Across America is close to Cyr’s heart because, as she says, “it’s something that is purely for the kids.” The event began in March 1998 after a small reading task force at the NEA came up with a big idea: a day to get kids excited about reading. Planners decided to hold Read Across America every March 2 – the birthday of beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss – and it quickly became the nation’s largest annual celebration of reading.

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Wanda Jennings and first graders at Jefferson Elementary School in BoiseThis year’s Read Across America coincides with the national movie premiere of The Lorax, an animated film featuring the voices of Zac Efron, Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Taylor Swift, Rob Riggle, and Betty White. The Lorax’s message is one of protecting the environment so everyone can enjoy trees, clean water, animals, and jobs far into the future.

That’s a message that resonates with Wanda Jennings, first grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School in Boise. Jennings, a 40+ year teacher, is a dedicated environmentalist who puts her values into action inside the classroom (where she and her students compost and recycle) and far beyond.

Jennings and her husband, Bryan, have taken two Earthwatch Worldwide trips, one to Flathead Lake in Montana to monitor osprey and another to the Washington Coast to study orca whales. On the spring break after Hurricane Katrina, Jennings traveled to New Orleans to take part in a Habitat for Humanity clean-up effort. She and Bryan also led the drive to help their church, the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, become a recognized “Green Sanctuary” congregation. Jennings – who was also recognized as one of 46 Disney Teachers nationwide in 2005 – believes in doing her part to save the world and encouraging her students to join in, too. “If they start young, they’ll do it for a lifetime,” she says.

Jennings’ classroom is among many in Boise that will be visited by guest readers on March 2. Kari Overall, Idaho’s NEA Director and Read Across America coordinator for the Boise Education Association, says there are more than 25 community leaders volunteering to read in classrooms, including state Sens. Mitch Toryanski and Elliot Werk, state Reps. Sue Chew and Brian Cronin, Kate McGwire from Mix 106, and Broncos football announcer Bob Behler. “This is the fourth year of the event and it just keeps getting bigger and more popular,” Overall adds. “Read Across America allows community members to share their love of reading with students, while allowing them to see the great work being done in the schools.”

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Educators worldwide can pledge to celebrate Read Across America, and as of a week before the 2012 event, nearly 2,500 had signed on, including these schools and teachers from Idaho:

Troy Elementary covered its classroom doors with Dr. Seuss book covers and a Truffala Tree stands outside each room, reports fourth-grade teacher Klaire Vogt. The school kicked off the week with an assembly featuring The Lorax read by school librarian Kathy Perezchica. Community members will join the fun by reading to groups of students. The school is also enjoying Dr. Seuss trivia, read-ins, Seuss videos, and T-shirts awarded to students who help meet their class reading goals. 

Bryan Elementary in Coeur d’Alene will hold a reading fair and birthday party for Dr. Seuss on March 1, with family activities including face painting and read-alouds.

At Downey Elementary, librarian Heather Rowe reports, “The students at our school will build a Truffala Tree and receive seeds so they can read under future trees.” (In The Lorax, the Once-ler cuts down all the Truffula Trees to knit Thneeds from their soft tufts. Readers learn that, fortunately, one Truffala Tree seed survived to help start a new forest.) 

“In Culdesac, high school students are teaming up with the elementary students on Friday as reading buddies to read Dr. Seuss books,” says kindergarten-1st grade teacher Marilou Cash. “We are also serving green eggs and toast to all students in our school on Friday morning.  First graders are having a Dr. Seuss book reading challenge for an incentive party.” At Nezperce Elementary School, fourth grade teacher Kim Uhlorn says, “We are having a pajama day in the elementary and the kids are bringing Dr. Seuss books and pillows and blankets.”

“We start about two weeks before the big day and read Seuss books and watch Seuss videos and talk about them,” says Hope Elementary School librarian Cheryl Allen. “Then we have our annual ‘Seuss/Read Across America’ Family Night with an evening of activities and games themed after Seuss books. The students receive pencils and bookmarks to start and can earn other ‘Seuss’ prizes. We have the reading parachute, star-making machine, cookie stack, bookwalk, etc. and end the evening with an ice cream sundae. This year we are hoping to add ‘elephant ears’ with the ice cream.”

Pledge here to help build a nation of readers, or get more information on Read Across America activities and resources.

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Mazda North American Operations is partnering with the NEA to raise money for public school libraries as part of the 2012 Read Across America celebration. Between now and April 2, consumers test driving any Mazda vehicle at a local dealership will enable Mazda to donate $25 per test drive toward local public school libraries, up to a total of $1 million. Administered by the NEA Foundation, this donation will help provide vital funds to help struggling public school libraries across the country.

“NEA’s national Read Across America celebration is not just about one hour or one day of reading,” says NEA President Van Roekel.  “It is about cultivating a lifetime of good reading habits in students that will translate into academic success.”

“NEA’s Read Across America Tour brings students, parents, educators and the entire community together to share the joy of reading,” adds Van Roekel.  “At a time of budget cutbacks in education resources, including reading resources, NEA appreciates Mazda’s unique partnership to help raise $1 million to support our nation’s public school libraries and ensure that all children have access to the gift of reading.”

Participants must first visit the Mazda-Lorax test drive site to obtain a certificate and take it to any Mazda dealer in the U.S. The dealer will then validate the certificate upon completion of the test drive. Funds raised through the test drives will be donated to the NEA Foundation and will be awarded to public school libraries nationwide through an application process in the spring. If you don’t want to take a test drive, you can still donate via the NEA Foundation. Pick #4 under Purpose to benefit the public libraries project.

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