Universal Vare students celebrate Dr. Seuss

Athletes and school administrators visited a West Passyunk
 educational facility to contribute to Read Across America.

By Alexis Abate

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Eagles’ cornerback Brandon Hughes read “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!” to Samantha Goldman’s kindergarten class as part of Universal Vare’s extended Read Across America program.

Photo by Greg Bezanis

The inside of Universal Vare Middle Charter School, 2100 S. 24th St., resembled the pages of a Dr. Seuss book Feb. 27 as Principal Taryn Roane — accessorized in The Cat in the Hat’s white gloves and red-and-white-striped hat — walked down her institution’s marble staircase alongside Philadelphia Eagles’ cornerback Brandon Hughes.

Faculty and staff were dressed in Seussical attire and cafeteria workers served up green eggs and ham for breakfast in honor of the best-selling book as the West Passyunk school expanded the birthday celebration of the renown children’s author Theodor Seuss Geisel into a weeklong event, which ran in conjunction with the National Education Association’s Read Across America Day.

Roane escorted Hughes down the hall and into Samantha Goldman’s kindergarten classroom. The uniformed children engrossed in the beginning of a movement break — an activity designed to get the children up after they’ve been sitting still for a while. The teacher asked a few questions and introduced Hughes to the group. As the youngsters sat cross-legged attentively on the multi-colored carpet, the teacher handed Hughes a Dr. Seuss hat of his own before he started to recite Seuss’ imaginative “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!” 

“They made it easy and I enjoyed reading to the kids,” Hughes, who also entertained Anna Candeloro’s kindergarten class, said. 

The Illinois native who described some of the book’s made-up words that include “schlopp” and “jibboo” as difficult also participated in a Read Across America event at a Cherry Hill, N.J. elementary school the day before. 

“I wish it would have happened to me when I was younger,” he said of his eagerness to participate. 

The school’s festivities commenced with a kick-off celebration followed up with daily readings. Aside from Hughes, several employees from Universal Companies, 800 S. 15th St., a handful of Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania student-athletes and many others participated throughout the week to incite an interest in childhood literacy. 

Each day, staff announced famous Dr. Seuss quotes over the loudspeaker. As the school celebrated Cat in the Hat Day, dozens wore the mischievous character’s well-known hat on their heads, and on Fox in Socks Day, students were allowed to wear silly socks. 

Since the middle school, which houses more than 400 students, also added kindergarten classes last year, the week’s events focused on making sure everyone was involved. 

“It was a great way to be all about the kindergarten,” Roane said. “But it expanded throughout the whole building and it’s pretty cool to see the eighth-graders get excited about some fun stuff happening.” 

In a second-floor classroom, fifth-graders cut out red-and-white hat-shaped word games on construction paper with Somebody-Wanted-But-So-Then written on individual glued pieces. The class used the summarizing strategy for reading comprehension to fill in clues after listening to a rendition of “The Lorax” from a Drexel lacrosse player. 

“I’m a big Dr. Seuss fan so any opportunity to stop and read the fun stories is a great day for me,” Natalie Spina, a fifth-grade special education teacher, said. “We sometimes forget how relevant they can be for even middle-school students.”

Although a large majority of the children are pulled from Grays Ferry and West Passyunk, the population continues to become increasingly diverse. However, families of children from other neighborhoods have become interested, Roane said. Since Universal Companies took over the struggling school two years ago, the administration and teachers have made it their mission to implement a variety of innovative and engaging activities in conjunction with pushing the importance of academics, Roane said. 

For the school’s Read Across America agenda, teachers and staff members were invaluable in making the day-to-day activities materialize, reaching out to their own friends to bring in a variety of readers — young and old alike. Guests delivered books to kindergartners, as well as fifth- and sixth-graders while seventh-graders received certificates for reading achievements. Life skills students and English language learners participated in a “Buddy Read” where students from two grades partnered up and read together. 

“It creates an opportunity for students to practice reading a book of their choice to another student,” Roane said. 

Even staff from the cafeteria, the school custodian and counselor read to the students, emphasizing that it’s something everyone does. Universal Companies’ corporate staffers, including Pam Breezeati, behavior specialist who secured Hughes, and Stephen Brady, executive vice president of operations. Teachers’ parents also came in to make it a family affair. 

“I think it’s been awesome and we have had a really great turnout,” Roane said. “Perhaps we should do it more often.” 

Holly Sofield and Taylor Garen, pre-junior Drexel University cheerleaders were excited to read “Wacky Wednesday” to Anna Candeloro’s students. 

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