ST. GEORGE — To celebrate Read Across America day, St. George firefighters visited elementary schools Monday to read to students in an effort to help promote the importance of reading.
In celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, Read Across America is a reading initiative held annually and was first incepted in 1997 by the National Education Association.
According to a 2019 report published by the National Center for Education Statistics, one in five American adults are not sufficiently literate, which can cause lifelong consequences.
Promoting reading at an early age is becoming increasingly important due to a number of digital temptations fighting for the attention of today’s children, said Amy Mitchell, executive director of elementary education and Title I.
“The digital age has also been a hurdle. A lot of children would rather play a video game than pick up a book and read,” Mitchell said. “It’s really easy for parents to hand their child a phone and let them entertain themselves with a video game, and so they aren’t handing them a book as often.”
Mitchell, who’s been working in the school district for 26 years, added that the number of children coming from volatile home life situations in the district is also increasing. For Title 1 schools, in particular, the major challenge is serving students who show up to school with insufficient oral language backgrounds.
“It feels as if they’re not having that traditional bedtime story with mom or dad,” she said. “Maybe trips to the library aren’t as frequent as they used to be.”
According to a 2012 report by the Brookings Institution, a significant divide stands between children who come from low-income households as opposed to high-income ones. High-income parents spend an average of a half-hour longer of face-to-face time with their children.
By the time impoverished children turn 5, they will know around 30 million fewer words than peers who come from affluent homes.
“I think the challenge is how to make up the difference,” Mitchell said. “When kids come to us for kindergarten and they just haven’t been exposed to nearly as many words as kids who come from a home where parents read to them.”
Mitchell added that every adult can be a role model for reading. For some children, however, learning to read can prove an enchanting endeavor.
“I know for some, they’re excited just to crack the code of reading,” she said. “They just think it’s fun to learn how letters together make words and words together make sentences and sentences make paragraphs and paragraphs make stories.”
District elementary principals, teachers, learning coaches and reading interventionists have worked tirelessly to make sure classroom instruction is strong in all areas of literacy such as reading, writing, speaking, listening, comprehension, vocabulary, phonics, etc., said Kathy Hall, the elementary literacy coordinator for the district.
In addition, schools in the district have implemented a “What I Need” time in order to meet the needs of students who are struggling in different areas of literacy or who need an extension. Students work with teachers for 20–30 minutes a day based on their specific needs, she said.
Adding that the state goal for literacy in first through third grade students is that 60% rate as showing typical or better progress on Acadience, a statewide assessment given to all first through third grade students.
“Every grade level maintained or grew in growth. Last year our district total was 67%, so we are moving,” Hall said. “It is difficult to move an entire district, but our teachers are doing it.”
Paradise Canyon Elementary School Principal Susan Harrah said having the firefighters come to the school is immensely beneficial to students. The firefighters serve as role models, so the students can see the value of reading, gain appreciation and see that everyone can be a reader.
“The greatest part of it is really watching the boys and girls when they see the firefighters come in, and they see them reading a book,” Harrah said. “They can see that, wow, it’s important to them, so there’s going to be some value in it.”
For this year’s celebration, St. George Firefighter Vasu Mudlier helped organize the event as a collaborative effort with the school district in order to stoke excitement for reading.
Getting out into the community to provide service and strengthen public relations is highly encouraged in the fire department, Mudliar said. Getting out into the schools allows students “to know that we’re their friends. We’re their confidant. We’re here to protect them in any stressful situation that they become involved with.”
Daven Trammell, the reading interventionist for Paradise Canyon Elementary, said reading is a top priority for the school, and teachers and administration work to give every child exactly what they need.
“But we also know that reading needs to be fun and get kids excited to know that reading brings enjoyment and an escape from reality,” Trammell said. “And so, today we’re trying to bring out that excitement.”
District Communication Director Steven Dunham said this is an event they hope to expand next year and include agencies form other cities as well as the police departments.
“If they are willing, we’d love to make this a monthly occurrence,” he said.
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