There was “literally” a book lover’s bonanza at Tommie Barfield Elementary School on Wednesday, February 3, 2021 with colorfully costumed characters cavorting and waving to families in motor vehicles of all sizes and shapes. It was Celebrate Literacy Night, and it was definitely celebrated. The smiles and waves kept coming for two hours and it probably could have lasted even longer, but it was time for the book characters to disappear back into the books they represented.
The Literacy Night parade format was easy. Stay in your vehicles, wear masks, and decorate your transport if you wish – and some did to a spectacular degree, by the way. There were lots of book characters along the way as cars traveled the length of the bus loop to turn right at the corner of Bermuda and Kirkwood and proceed into the car loop with even more characters to identify.
When the cars first entered, they were given grade-level identification sheets to place on the windshield to help the teachers and staff, er, “characters,” identify their students. Students were also given a Character Hunt Sheet, and their challenge was to identify the book characters along the route, which are current and popular characters in books that they’ve been reading, some for generations.
TBE’s Media Specialist, Mary Beth Schneller, assembled some high-demand, book favorites to reward the students who correctly identified the characters in the books, mostly because they read them. Some cars filled with students enjoyed it so much that they went through the route for another look while rocking to the music and spirited excitement of the characters and maybe, to get another chance to identify the book characters.
Teachers and staff were so excited to finally have a chance to greet their students’ parents in person. Due to the Covid-19 parameters, for safety reasons, parents have not been allowed in Collier County Schools, so this was a great opportunity to visit from a safe distance in real time, and for teachers to share a few anecdotes about their children through their masks at a distance for safety’s sake.
The literary focus of this event wasn’t the only ingredient. TBE was also collecting donations for Our Daily Bread Food Pantry on Marco Island, and there were generous donations from the participants. The stacks of non-perishable products piled up at the beginning of the turn to the car loop were impressive – we do have generous families on Marco Island and Isles of Capri.
TBE Reading Specialist, Molly Skudnig, dressed as Mary Poppins and even toted a “magic” umbrella. Katie Maya, TBE Principal, incognito with red hair, portrayed Ms. Frizzle from “Magic School Bus”. Facility Manager and Traffic Controller, Mr. Dan, was dressed as Bob the Builder. They greeted each carful of parents and students as they entered the route.
Assistant Principal, Dana Franklin-Riashi, made a great character as Wilbur from “Charlotte’s Web”, one of my favorite books of all time, and Eymy Grisko, Media Center Assistant, dressed as the wacky and funny Junie B. Jones. School Counselor, Leanne Hope, portrayed “The Big Umbrella” and Exceptional Student Education teacher, Amanda Ray, was Greg from “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”, a must-read book that’s been popular for decades.
As the sun began to sink in the west, the cars dwindled from bumper to bumper to several late comers that were just as enthusiastic as the ones that lined up before the 4:30 p.m. start. The parade was steady, attitudes positive, and smiles plentiful, which you could sense even if they were hidden behind masks. I estimated over 111 cars, but I was distracted at times by the antics of the grade level teachers and the trickster Cat in the Hat who danced around, waved, and generally supported all the other book characters, some of whom know the Cat in the Hat personally. A Literacy event is not complete without the Cat in the Hat.
Just in case you haven’t read the books that were portrayed, they were Kindergarten: “Pete the Cat”; First Grade: “Pinkalicious”; Second Grade: “How the Crayons Saved the Rainbow Third Grade: “Magic Tree House #1: Dinosaurs Before Dark”; Fourth Grade: “Who Was?” (Series); Fifth Grade: “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” If you haven’t read these to or with your children, they would be a great place to start or have them check them out of the Media Center.
So, how does this annual Literacy Celebration come about? “Each year, the Florida Department of Education designates a week to observe “Celebrate Literacy Week” in Florida. Our schools, primarily at the elementary level, do an amazing job with special activities to highlight the joy of reading. As explained by CCPS Superintendent, Dr. Kamela Patton, CCPS enhanced the efforts this year with community leaders including Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, Susan McManus (President, Champions for Learning), Vincent Keeys (President, NAACP) and Erick Carter (CCPS School Board, Chair), all sharing a favorite book on social media.
No matter what format individual schools created for their students, the enthusiasm and the joy of reading was promoted and embraced once again, not to mention the fun! Let’s keep it up for our kids!