Reading Challenge, Literacy Block Party help encourage reading

ORANGE, NJ — The English language arts department of Orange’s public schools hosted an annual Literacy Block Party at Lincoln Avenue Elementary School on Friday, June 2 that featured games, giveaways, puppets and more, with the theme “Every hero has a story.”

Students who attended the event participated in a variety of literacy activities and earned tickets to redeem for face painting. Attendees signed in and the first 100 received free T-shirts; there were free books available for students, who were encouraged to take at least five books each for their personal library.

Free food and refreshments, including popcorn, hotdogs and snacks, was available to all participants and literacy activities included bookmaking, literacy hopscotch, make a puppet, illustrate a scene, and words in words. Additionally, the winners of the Orange Page Turners’ Reading Challenge were announced, including the most well-read schools and adult readers from the community.

District officials said the Page Turners Challenge and the Literacy Block Party were part of the same districtwide attempt to support the Orange Board of Education’s focus on building knowledge through a high volume of reading. That’s why English language arts director Karen Harris launched a reading initiative for the entire community, the Orange Page Turners’ Reading Challenge.

“The initiative modeled reading and promoted a culture of learning,” said acting Superintendent of Schools Paula Howard on Friday, June 2. “The goal of the challenge was for the entire community to read 1 million pages between Nov. 25, 2016, and May 1, 2017. The community and students embraced the initiative, reading 1,029,591 pages. The Literacy Block Party celebrated the winners and supports the district’s reading focus.”

According to district officials, Howard attended the celebration, along with Orange Board of Education President E. Lydell Carter and Vice President Gloria Fisher. But Park Avenue School Principal Myron Hackett said he was proud that one of his students won the Orange Page Turners Reading Challenge.

“We had some incredible readers and we had one student, Jayden Wendell, who was at the absolute top of the district in reading,” Hackett said Friday, June 16, during a celebration at his school for their receipt of a $5,000 grant to pay for new books in the school library, from the Laura Bush Education Foundation. “But we had so many other students that contributed with the program. It was a big success at Park Avenue.”

Despite the rise of social media, cell phones and the spread of the internet, online gaming and other activities that modern students engage in, Hackett said reading really is still fundamental and an essential part of a thorough and efficient education that the State of New Jersey guarantees every public school student.

“There’s much more information available to our students; that’s why we encourage them to read more,” said Hackett. “Over the summer, we do have some summer programs taking place, but we’re going to unveil our new and improved library the first day in September. There’s so much that happens here. Park Avenue School has so many programs going on, both academic and recreational, that the students enjoy themselves all year long.”

Patrick Infante and Joyce Daniels, two of the Forest Street School teachers who volunteered at the Lincoln Avenue School literacy event, agreed with Hackett that reading is fundamental.

“The reason we’re having this program today is that we’re focusing on a new program that we have in the schools, a new initiative, which is the Reading Plus All-Stars,” said Daniels on Friday, June 2. “We’re basically pushing literacy in the classroom. We want the students to be able to read and actually promotes and focuses on their lexile scores and they actually get to move up on grade level.”

Daniels said students were able to pick many of the books that were available for free on Friday, June 2, and they “were able to have lunch and food and snacks and play lots of games with their peers and teachers.” She also said “picking up a book will never be the same as turning on a computer screen.”

“The kids are asking for boxes to carry all the books they’re taking,” Daniels said.

Infante agreed that there was a lot of enthusiasm for free books, but said he wished they had more bags for the kids to carry them home, instead of boxes, although he admitted anything was acceptable to help fight the never-ending war against illiteracy.

“We’re dedicated; we’re trying to promote reading,” said Infante on Friday, June 2. “I think kids have other interests and they’re getting pushed and pulled in other directions. Hopefully, we can give them topics that they’re really interested in, to turn them on to reading.”