The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So they brought Seuss to Strong School this cold, cold Monday.
The United Way’s Boost! program coordinated Seussical celebrations along with the city to honor the author’s 111th birthday and highlight the importance of reading at three Boost! schools this week, including Strong School, Clinton Avenue and Lincoln-Bassett. The effort reflected Mayor Toni Harp’s recent challenge to make New Haven “The City That Reads,” by getting at least half of New Haven students reading at or above grade level.
One factor in that challenge is continuing to portray reading as a fun activity. Dr. Seuss wrote “The Cat in the Hat” when the director of Houghton Mifflin publishing asked him to create a reading primer that actually interested young readers—as opposed to the standard “Dick and Jane” primers used in most schools at the time. Seuss used short vocabulary list to write the book. It took him a year and a half—and 236 words.
Many students “would rather pick up an iPad than a book,” said the Cat in the Hat, on other days known as George Flanagan (pictured), Strong School’s assistant principal. Communities have to keep kindergarten and first-grade students motivated, despite the series of assessments they have to take, he said.
Superintendent Garth Harries (pictured at top) read Green Eggs and Ham to a group of first-graders taught by fourth-year Strong School teacher Georgette Karadimos. Harries has emphasized the importance of getting kids to read by the end of first grade, instead of by third grade. The district recently gave a presentation to the Board of Education showing more streamlined technology schools and teachers now use to track individual students’ literacy ability.
“Who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss?” Harries said. Students should know that the reading push has lots of community supporters, including Yale-New Haven Hospital, which donated a collection of Seuss books to the school, he said.
Kevin Myatt, the hospital’s senior vice president of human resources, also read to students Monday, starting with the classic Cat in the Hat. Yale-New Haven Hospital also has a stake in “ensuring that this community is the best community possible,” he said.
Why Seuss? “It was just fun.” Hospital executive staff volunteered to read to various Strong School classrooms throughout the morning.
About 80 percent of students in the class are reading at or above grade level, Karadimos (pictured) said. Every day they spend 45 minutes on independent reading. Last year she taught kindergarten students and had decorated the entire room with posters of Dr. Seuss books and characters.
Boost! and school staff also contributed thematic food options, including green eggs and ham, a cat-in-the-hat’s hat-shaped cake, and a a bright green “grinch juice.” Seussians also headed to Lincoln Bassett School Monday afternoon and Clinton Avenue Thursday morning.