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Sports Stars Celebrate Literacy


"The children went wild when the players and two mascots for the Manchester Wolves and the New Hampshire Fisher Cats -- Max and Fungo -- entered," recalled Debbie Idzelis. "There were about 70 children of all ages present, preschool to grade five. In contrast to the evening's rousing start, you could hear a pin drop when each sports celebrity or mascot was reading."

For Idzelis, watching the children's faces as their "heroes" read to them was the most memorable moment from Celebrity Literacy Night. The idea for the event came from a parent who suggested that listening to sports stars read to them might encourage kids to read for pleasure. Highland Goffe's Falls Elementary School in Manchester, New Hampshire, elected to get even more out of this reading event by combining it with a planned book fair. Idzelis, a first and second grade looping teacher, was part of the team of parents, administrators, and teachers that orchestrated the evening's activities.

"The students liked to see local sports stars from the Manchester Monarchs hockey team, New Hampshire Fisher Cats baseball team, Manchester Wolves football team and a Manchester fireman, all fully dressed in their uniforms," Idzelis told Education World. "The also enjoyed the various sports figures from the University of New Hampshire in Durham -- players from men and women's hockey, football, and swimming teams, and the head of athletics."

Readers volunteered their time and entertained the children with stories while their parents shopped in the book fair. The children loved listening to the celebrities, interacting with them, getting autographs, and asking questions. Many parents chose to sit in on the readings, too.

"The whole evening was electric!" observed Idzelis. "When kids see football and baseball stars read, it is contagious and promotes reading. Our annual Scholastic Book Fair sold over $6,000 worth of books that night, the highest ever, and it is attributed to the celebrity readers."

Idzelis reports that the visiting sports figures were so enthusiastic about Celebrity Literacy Night that they remained well beyond their scheduled departure time to meet with all of the children and offered to return the next year. The Manchester Wolves football players signed a copy of the book Z for Zamoie and donated it to the school.

"Parents were so impressed," said Idzelis. "Many asked that we sponsor more events like this. It was a fabulous opportunity for family interaction."

Literacy nights are appropriate at any time during the school year, says Idzelis. Highland Goffe's Falls Elementary established a steering committee with members who each contacted five or so potential readers. While this event featured sports figures, the key was giving the students a chance to engage in fun reading activities with adult role models from the community. Committee members also created posters that hung around the school, made announcements and notices for students to take home, selected books for the celebrity readers, and provided refreshments for the end of the event.

"Just let the kids mingle during the refreshment time," Idzelis advised those who hold literacy nights. "It is fun to watch! Reading excitement will blossom."