Wearing tall red-and-white striped hats, the eight children in Mrs. Sarah Boyle's first grade class at Our Lady of the Angels Academy sit on the floor, listening as Lansford police Officer Chris Ondrus – also wearing a tall red-and-white striped hat – reads aloud from The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss.
It's Friday, March 2, Dr. Seuss' 108th birthday (and Ondrus' 33rd). The officer is one of several well-known people who have come to the Lansford school to celebrate Read Across America week by sharing the popular children's book with students.
Read Across America, begun 14 years ago as an initiative of the National Education Association, encourages children to devote March 2, the birthday of beloved children's author Theodore Geisel, known as Dr. Seuss, to reading. The day is celebrated with high-profile visitors reading Dr. Seuss books to children.
At Our Lady of the Angels, The Lorax makes a surprise visit, and each child receives a free book. Sarah and Kevin Ruch of 14 Acre Farm have donated a birthday cake, which the students enjoy after lunch. The books were donated by the Lehigh Valley Cops N Kids Program, private donations from St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital book drive, and Barnes and Noble.
The festivities were coordinated by St. Luke's University Health Network and the Panther Valley Public Library.
St. Luke's employees Hollie Gibbons and Lauri Price; state Rep. Doyle Heffley; Bill Richards, representing Sen. John Yudichak; Dave Midas, of the Carbon County Sheriff's Office; Ondrus; and library volunteers Pat Ladick, Nancy Meitzler, Dawn Neyer and Marie Ondrus read to the students.
"We were really thrilled that we had this opportunity," says Sister Regina Elinich, IHM, the school's principal. "Every year, we celebrate Read Across America week, with a special emphasis on Dr. Seuss' birthday. We're just so happy that people are willing to come in and share their time with our children because this is where reading really begins. We want it to continue to be a lifelong interest and skill for the children. We're also very happy that books are going to be donated to the children. I know it means a lot to them."
Gibbons, manager, Disease Prevention Programs for St. Luke's, said the hospital network became involved a couple years ago.
"St. Luke's, about two years ago, decided to embark on a literacy initiative because poor reading status is a predictor of poor health status. We started at the Bethlehem campus, and this year we've expanded the initiative through our other campuses, including Allentown and Miners Memorial," she says.
The hospital network donated a book to every child in those areas – about 3,000 books in all, Gibbons said. Allentown, Bethlehem and Tamaqua school districts and Our Lady of the Angels. In addition, each classroom received a copy of The Lorax.
Eighth-grade student Samantha McCarthy says she learned from the event.
"We learned about recycling and how to save the Earth. We read a book about The Lorax and about protecting God's Earth," she says.
The Lorax a story about a hermit who comes to the defense of the colorful Truffula Trees, which are being destroyed by the greedy Once-ler carries a strong, positive message about everyone's responsibility to protect the environment.
"I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues," Ondrus intones, speaking as The Lorax.
"In honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday, I think it's good to be able to get out and talk to the kids and to be able to read to them and show how important reading is, especially at such a young age," he says.
Down the hall, Heffley reads to Mrs. Kim Feisel's second-grade class.
"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not," he reads.
"It's important that we have this focus on reading," Heffley says. "I've been reading at several different schools across the area this week. It's important that kids get involved early and they learn that reading is fun and that they can pick up knowledge by reading. I think it's great that we have the time to come out and do things like this and set the example that reading is a good thing."
Bill Richards, representing Sen. Yudichak, also read to a class. Yudichak was reading to students at another school.
"Reading is such a vital link for kids. Not only for everyday life, but for future employment and education," he says. "And this topic, the environment, is such an important thing, especially today. We talked a little about Marcellus shale and what possible environmental damages could take place versus the benefits of job creation. There's a balance there, but we have to be vigilant about protecting the environment."
Midas enjoyed reading The Lorax to Miss Jane Dowling's fourth-grade students.
"It's certainly important to get these kids to understand that reading is important. And by reading The Lorax, that they understand how it's important to keep the environment safe and beautiful, with trees and blue skies. Through the cartoon process of The Lorax, the kids can really understand this," he says.