Local Teacher Creates ‘An Actual Read Across America’ For Her Classroom
Sandy Hook Elementary School fourth grade teacher Connie Sullivan has been sharing “an actual read across America” with her students, thanks to books she compiled for her classroom with support from an award from Newtown Allies for Change (NAFC).
Last year, Sullivan shared, she received a “Supporter for Allies for Change” monetary award from NAFC, “a grassroots advocacy organization run by volunteers to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in Newtown,” according to the group’s website (newtownallies.org).
Sullivan said she earned the award last school year after completing other projects to make sure all school community members were represented in the classroom. She did not apply for the award and it was a happy surprise when she received it.
With the monetary award, Sullivan focused on how the annual day to celebrate the National Education Association’s Read Across America program, Read Across America Day is celebrated March 2 every year. The annual event is celebrated on the anniversary of the birth of Dr Seuss, and it has morphed into a celebration of the author.
Sullivan wanted “an actual read across America,” she said.
Her effort turned into a project to find a book reflective of each state in the country. Sullivan said she chose books that represent and celebrate diverse cultures and landscapes within the United States. She made sure representations across skin color, religion, and genders were all included in the collection.
The National Education Association describes its Read Across America program as “the nation’s largest celebration of reading.” And this year, the national Read Across America program’s focus is “on motivating children and teens to read through events, partnerships, and reading resources that are about everyone, for everyone,” the NEA website (nea.org) reads. “The titles and resources featured by [National Education Association’s] Read Across America include books that students can see themselves reflected in, as well as books that allow readers to see a world or a character that might be different than them. Readers who feel included, recognized, and a part of the world are engaged readers.”
To start her journey across America’s books, Sullivan said she created a document with a list of different states — including Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico — and picture books. Sometimes she chose a book to represent a state by setting and sometimes she chose a story about a person from that state.
“I just wanted to make sure that was connected, that each of the states was represented,” said Sullivan.
After researching and selecting books for states, she worked with the Sandy Hook Elementary School library to see if a book was already in the school’s library and, if not, she collected a copy.
“Because of this project, I am able to introduce the United States to my students,” said Sullivan.
She has been sharing one book at a time with her fourth grade students. The books range in topics from women’s rights, conservation, and workers rights, to inventions.
One book Sullivan shared with the students is called No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas by Tonya Bolden. Sullivan said the book is about Groves, who was born a slave, migrated to Kansas, accumulated land, and built a potato farm. The students really reacted when they learned Groves invented potato chips.
“To fourth graders that is cool. That is interesting,” said Sullivan.
The nonfiction books have been capturing the fourth graders’ imaginations.
Another book is about Marjory Stoneman, who worked to protect the Everglades. She has books that chronicle men and women who fought segregation. Two books that stood out for the students were The Girl With a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca and Mr Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, according to Sullivan.
Luckily, since most of the books are biographies, the students have been loving the nonfiction books about people.
Sullivan also highlighted Virginia’s book, The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko. Sullivan said there are children who see the books she is reading and they see themselves and their families represented in the pages.
“That’s hugely important for them to know they are included, and they are part of this amazing country,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan shared the book collection grew from her original plan to include marking Common Core State Standards that include reading, social studies, speaking, and language lessons.
“I’m able to get all of that instruction in while giving them background knowledge of all of these people who made a difference, and who they may not have heard about,” Sullivan reflected.
And what is the book Sullivan chose to represent Connecticut? The Taxing Case of the Cows: A True Story About Suffrage by Pegi Deitz Shea and Iris Van Rynbach.
“Now I get to talk to them about [the Women’s Suffrage Movement],” said Sullivan, clearly excited.
Sullivan reads to her students every day.
In her classroom, she keeps a bulletin board featuring a map of the United States. After reading a book, the map connects a visual of the book to the state it represents, using a piece of string.
“It’s been great,” Sullivan said, about the project overall.
Education Editor Eliza Van can be reached at email@example.com.