By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Walking through the halls at Holy Cross School on a Wednesday morning in late September, you’d expect to hear childish chatter emanating from the kindergarten and first grade classrooms. Instead, all was silent until, at the door to the first grade, the deep but light voice of a high school boy could be heard. “Clifford was sad. ‘I can’t find Mr. Squeaky,’ he said. ‘I’ve looked and looked. I looked in the basket of onions, but the onions made me cry!’” A small chorus of giggles and “EWWs” sounded for a moment.
“‘Don’t cry Clifford. We’ll find Mr. Squeaky.’” A patter of clapping hands.
The kindergarteners were enthralled, listening to a young man in a white and blue football jersey. He was a member of the St. Mary’s High School Trojans football team, and he was part of an annual community outreach program called Reach Out and Read. The program began in 2004 with the football team and has always been held during St. Mary’s Homecoming Week. The football players have always participated to show the younger students the importance of reading and making good grades, and to impress upon them that as you get older it’s still important to read and make good grades. Reading to the younger children is a way for them to give back to the grade schools and, for some, to actually return to the elementary schools they attended.
This year, St. Mary’s football players reached out and read to children at Our Lady of the Presentation, St. John LaLande, Nativity of Mary and Holy Cross schools.
Holy Cross principal Jean Ferrara was all smiles. “These guys are like rock stars to our kids,” she whispered, so not to disturb the big and the little kids. “They keep scooting a little closer all the time; they can’t get close enough to the guys.”
In the kindergarten, the children surrounded the young man reading about Amelia Bedelia’s first day of school. “I like my name,” she said. “Everything rhymes.”
A third group of football players read to the second grade.
After reading aloud to the children, the football players handed out dark blue and white St. Mary’s High School t-shirts to the kids and their teachers. Ferrara said the children could wear the t-shirts to school with their uniforms whenever they wanted, to remind them of Reach Out and Read.
Senior Jordan Cascuola, No. 54, (Independence Middle Schools ‘08) said he was asked to participate in Reach Out and Read a couple of years ago and he’s glad he said he would. “It’s been really great! I’ve done this all three years since my sophomore year; its fun to read to the kids and it encourages them to learn to read.” As he spoke, he waved Amelia Bedelia’s First Day of School, by Herman Parish, as though emphasizing his words.
Amelia Bedelia was a series of books first published in 1963 by Peggy Parish. After her death in 1988, her nephew Herman took up where she left off and has continued writing Amelia Bedelia stories. Amelia Bedelia takes everything literally and makes many comic mistakes, but it always seems to come out alright. For instance, when Amelia Bedelia was instructed to dust the furniture, she threw dust all over them because in her house, they “undust” the furniture. But her cake was so out of this world, she was able to keep her job as a housekeeper.
Stephen Newberry, No. 72, also a senior, (St. John LaLande ‘08) said the children seemed to enjoy them coming in and reading out loud. “Just to see the kids having a good time is a good thing,” he said. “It breaks up the school day routine.” He carried Clifford’s Pals, which he had just finished reading to the first graders. “Clifford, yeah, reading it brought me back to first and second grade,” he said. “I always loved Clifford.”
Michael Thomason, No. 15, (Nativity ‘08) read Arthur’s Hallow’een written in 1982 by Marc Brown. Reading the book also took him back to childhood. “Kids always tell each other what they will be or do for Hallow’een,” the senior said. “I’ll miss it next year.”
In the story, first published in 1982, Arthur and his friends go trick or treating. At first Arthur is scared, but his fears lessen along the way. There is a house on one street where a witch is supposed to live, and only D.W. is brave enough to approach it. Then Arthur and D.W. find out that the “witch” is really just an old lady with a messy house and yard whom all the kids and some of their parents misunderstand.
Nine young men reached out and read to the children at the four schools, besides Lascuola, Newberry and Thomason, including Ozzy Litchfield, who attended Nativity; Drew Huttinger, who attended St. John LaLande; Sam Kenney, attended Nativity; Andy Salva, who attended Nativity; Tucker West, who attended Nativity, and Sawyer Meese, who attended Messiah Lutheran School.
Tucker said later, “I thought that Reach Out and Read was a very fun experience. It really made me wish that St. Mary’s did this when I was a kid. Just to see the joy on the kid’s faces after reading to them was pretty cool. All in all, I can’t wait to do it again next year; it was a very fun experience.”
The St. Mary’s students all agreed the children they had read to that morning seemed pretty happy. “We had a good response,” they said.