Mayor Toni Harp may need to move over—there’s a LEAPer, 9-year-old Keyonna Duarte, who wants to mold “the city that reads” into “the city that reads to each other.”
Duarte, a rising fourth grader at Mauro Sheridan, credits the not-for-profit mentorship program Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership (LEAP) with her reading skills. Friday, her time in LEAP’s summer camp brought her to Clinton Avenue School, where the organization was holding a segment of its annual Read-In.
Moved from its normal spot on the New Haven Green due to rain, LEAP held this year’s Read-In at the five school sites where it has daily programs: Clinton Avenue School, Troup School, Hill Central Music Academy, Christopher Columbus Academy and King Robinson Inter-District Magnet School. Adult visitors read books to the kids.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Mayor Harp and an “instrument petting zoo” from the New Haven Symphony Orchestra made appearances at Clinton Avenue School; State Sen. Gary Winfield read in at Hill Central Music Academy, and State Sen. Martin Looney and Ward 7 Alder candidate Abigail Roth attended the Troup School. LEAP Summer Fellow Rachel Tropp said there were 100 students at each location.
Sitting in a small group of six girls at Clinton Avenue School, Duarte found herself captivated, then transformed as AARP Experience Corps volunteer Jody Goggins Kelly read from Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld’s Exclamation Mark, about a young exclamation mark who is just learning how to express himself. As Kelly reached a page of exclamations, Duarte sprang up on her knees, proclaiming “wow!” when it was her turn to point out a word on the page. Beside her, fellow student Diannelys Rodriguez and counselor Shayla Barrett giggled.
Duarte kept that enthusiasm going as Kelly whipped out five of Eric Litwin’s Pete The Cat books, and Pete sang his groovy button song, refusing to lose hope as his four buttons fell from his shirt and became three, and then two, and then one.
“What do you think is going to happen?” Kelly asked the group.
“It’s gonna fall!” exclaimed Duarte gleefully. Just behind her, Barrett nudged her and whispered don’t spoil it.
But for Duarte, those potential spoilers are part of the need to read, and her realization that she wants to be reading to others more after Friday’s Read-In. First as a teacher — and then maybe as a civil servant.
She first became acquainted with the Pete The Cat books last year, she said, as she was trying to convince her younger cousin Chase to read instead of playing video games during the summer. Chase wasn’t pleased with the suggestion, she recalled; he kicked her. So she suggested she read the books to him. And he warmed to the idea. When she’d learned the groovy button song for him, she went onto other tales of the friendly feline: Pete and his white shoes, Pete and his magic sunglasses, Pete and the new neighbor on the clock.
Watching Kelly in action, Duarte said she feels inspired to do more reading in front of her class when the school year resumes. From there, she said, she wants to become a reading teacher, and then a reading mayor. Her eyes fell to where Toni Harp had sat just 30 minutes beforehand, reading Jane Cowen-Fletcher’s It Takes A Village to a small group of girls in the gymnasium.
“I wanna be like Miss Toni Harp because you can get good money, and I wanna be rich,” she began. “But I also want to teach people to read and I want to work for government, write essays and books.”
Asked about Harp’s mission to make New Haven into “the city that reads,” Duarte said she agrees with it — but would push for more reading to other peers, students and colleagues as a mentorship activity.
That was good news to Kelly, a retired speech therapist who left the city’s Board of Education six years ago. She said she sees the Read-In (it’s her second year participating) as a way to give back to the community in which she was raised.
“I missed working with kids so much,” she said. “It’s kind of the perfect thing.”