EL CENTRO — Smiling as they watched the magic while school children played among life-sized, whimsical reproductions of Whoville houses on Jan. 26, El Centro’s McKinley Elementary School staff were thrilled by student reactions to the reward for the school’s top readers.
Eighty-five first through sixth graders who had attained top Accelerated Reader (AR) points for the semester were released from class from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. to play at the Whoville Winter Party, named for the fictional town in Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” on the school’s front lawn.
AR is a nation-wide program begun in the 1980s by a mother who wanted to encourage her own children to read more. In the program, students choose which books to read from the library’s selections based on their own interests. Instructors monitor their progress using the program’s instant test assessment, while urging young readers to always challenge themselves with higher levels.
“Our numbers actually doubled this year,“ said McKinley Principal Patti Weeks, “from 40 students invited to last year’s Winter Wonderland celebration up to 85 this winter semester event. When our school librarian, Susan Sanchez, organizes a party, she does a party! She is so creative and inspirational.”
Weeks reported that Sanchez provided the school with this year’s mantra, “Read! Read! Read! Test! Test! Test!” The students recite the words, as well as do a little dance, to the mantra.
Working with parents, school staff, and three U.S. Navy sailor volunteers, Sanchez’s team guided small groups of students from one fun activity to the next within “Whoville” houses that were created from Christmas float props on loan from the Naval Air Facility (NAF), El Centro. Three of the many events were managed by Navy personnel.
Active Sailor Airman (AMAN) McCoy from Houston, TX, manned the “Snowman Slam” where children tossed a rubber ball at a snowman made from styrofoam cups. Airman, Aviation Electrician’s Mate (AEAN) Smithling from Lexington, N.C., was working the “Bell Toss” which had students tossing sleigh bells into cups. Aviation Machinist (ADAN) Lisua from Portland, OR, helped students at the “Max the Reindeer Needs a Nose” game where students tried to stick a cotton ball to their nose and attempted to transfer it to the greased nose of a painted reindeer.
When students first noticed the sailors clad in their blue camouflaged fatigues, they yelled, “Soldiers!” rather than “Sailors!” AMAN McCoy laughed, “I guess we can be a soldier for a time.”
The enlisted volunteers called themselves “single sailors” there to represent the Navy and give back to the community while offering shore support.
SDC Instructional Aide Edgar Melendez dressed up as “The Grinch,” and had adults and children laughing with delight at his antics. Melendez manned the photo ops center with the children in a life-size sleigh. However, the Grinch was often found out and about having cotton “snow fights” with the children before being scuttled back to his sleigh by a smiling Sanchez.
Carrows Restaurant in El Centro provided a special lunch for the AR honorees and support crew. Carrows General Manager Norma Mendez and Yulissa Estrada, cashier/host, conducted a “how to make a chocolate pie” session as they taught small groups of students to make pudding and whipped cream pies that would be served as dessert for the event.
Sanchez, who is already planning a spring semester AR Luau, said she was thankful for her principal who arrived at McKinley about the same time as she did, three years ago. The librarian said she has wonderful administrative support for the AR award events and campus excitement builds as the reward day draws closer.
“We both want the children to really want to come to the next one,” said Sanchez. “Read, Read, Read! Test, Test, Test! As the AR point challenge is raised yet again!”