Editor’s Note: Only first names were used for children in this article per request of their teachers.

By Joe Zimmermann, Bloc Reporter

It was a day of puppet shows, coloring and, of course, books.

First- and second-graders from 11 schools, their teachers and student mentors gathered in Cole Field House May 2 to celebrate books and their newfound reading skills for Maryland Reads Day.

Students from each of the Prince George’s County Public Schools at the event wore T-shirts in different colors to represent their elementary schools. Bus-fulls of students ran into the former basketball court, exclaiming about the field house’s size and the day’s prospects.

“It’s chaos,” Jillian DiNardo, a senior English and film studies major, said, smiling as flocks of students rushed past. “It’s great, though — one of the best days of the year.”

DiNardo worked as a team leader, supervising the school she volunteered with in the day’s activities. Her love of reading and working with children drew her to the America Reads program, she said.

“Working with first- and second-graders is very interesting,” she said, “because they all have their own little personalities. It’s really important for us to get in there and be role models. That’s why we bring them to campus. It gives them something to aspire to.”

For the past two years, she has volunteered for the program as a mentor at Beacon Heights Elementary School and schools in Mount Rainier.

DiNardo said the experience was life changing for many volunteers. Teachers also noted that the event celebrated the progress students made in their reading skills while working with Reads volunteers.

“In a word: awesome,” Marjorie Martin, a first-grade teacher at Thomas Stone Elementary School, said. “It’s so rewarding because it’s a treat. It’s like icing on a cake.”

Martin said she was pleased with the help university volunteers provided her students during the year.

First grade is, in many ways, the most formative year, so it meant a lot for them to get assistance from college students and see the campus, she said.

“I asked them, and many of them said they wanted to go to college,” Martin said, as her students busied themselves as they made paper monkey hats to coincide with this year’s book: “Caps for Sale.” Volunteers later gave each student a copy and read it with them on the gym floor.

Spurred on by the day’s themes of reading and literature, the children discussed their favorite books.

Mary said her favorite was “Sally and the Daisy,” in which the protagonist “gives flowers to her mom and her mom says ‘thank you.’”

Pharaoh, another student, said he wanted to be an animal rescuer when he grew up.

He also said Maryland Reads is “cool.”

America Reads*America Counts began during the Clinton administration as a national program. The program at the university tries to keep its mission of promoting literacy alive.

“It’s an educational partnership,” Ali Barlow, America Reads coordinator at this university, said. “It’s a way to help these students in Prince George’s County and to give Maryland students real experience with the community.”

Lanita Sledge, a graduate coordinator and first-year master’s student in minority and urban education, emphasized the importance of giving back to the community in close proximity to the university.

Maryland Reads encourages young students to seek a college education in the future, and to have fun reading in the present, Sledge said. “Not only are they going to have fun and come to campus,” she said, “but they also get to practice their reading skills.”

Students could always use help with a skill as valuable as reading, she said. “You always need to read,” she said, as hundreds of elementary schoolers and volunteers did just that.

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