For the past week, many schools, libraries, community centers and our very own Houston Dynamo players have been preparing for this year’s National Read Across America Day. Read Across America is a nationwide reading celebration that takes place annually on March 2, also known as Dr. Seuss’s birthday.
The purpose of the celebration is to get kids excited about reading and to encourage good reading habits. Between reading competitions and activity guides, communities are getting their kids ready for this big day. And what better way to add to the excitement than to have role models from our community read to the students and stress the importance of reading.
Houston Dynamo defender Kevin Garcia kicked off this week at Matzke Elementary School, reading Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat” to kindergarteners and first graders. Prior to reading, Kevin talked to the two groups about the importance of reading. Not only has it allowed him to excel through school but it has also allowed him to learn three languages: English, Spanish and Swedish. This led to a bit of confusion in the crowd, as many kindergarteners have yet to learn about Sweden. That one was a doozy for Garcia to explain, but added to the fun and educational side of the whole event with the teachers laughing and the kids learning about Sweden!
Garcia showed a great amount of patience and enthusiasm with the children, taking question after question, giving hugs and high fives, dancing with the kids after the book reading – even wearing the iconic “Cat in the Hat” hat to get into the spirit of Read Across America.
“It is a great opportunity for the kids to hear from someone that has been part of school their whole life and then gone on to accomplish what Kevin’s done,” said Matzke Elementary School Librarian Karen Womack. “For the kids to see that, and then for them to see that he’s reading to them and taking the time to show that he cares, is truly wonderful.”
Midfielder Eric Bird visited the Promise Community School at Baker-Ripley House to read “Strictly No Elephants” by Lisa Mantchev to their kindergarten, first and second graders. The book is about a young boy with a pet elephant who is not allowed into the pet club because, you guessed it, there are “strictly no elephants” allowed. Not only did the kids enjoy the story, but Bird also hopes that they gleaned a good message.
“It’s a book about friendship and fitting in. I think that’s a really important message to push to these younger kids and teaching them not only that reading is good but also that friendship is important,” Bird said of the book choice. “Just because you don’t look the same, or sound the same, or just because you have a pet elephant and can’t come into the pet club doesn’t mean that you don’t fit in.”
Bird also took time to interacted with the students, answering questions and taking pictures. The question that stood out the most to Bird was a second grade girl who asked him “Why do you play soccer?” Eric loved this question and said he “wants to teach these kids to do something you love.”
“No matter where it takes you or how much money you make you should do what you want to do. It really makes me take a step back and remember why I do what I do,” Bird said. “This is part of it too, getting involved in the community and seeing these kids. They’re the next generation, the future, so this is a really cool part of the job.”
The teachers, staff, and students at Matzke Elementary and Promise Community School are truly capturing the essence of Read Across America. At both schools people were dressed up as Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss quotes lines the walls, and there were competitions between the classes on how many books each class could read. Both Garcia and Bird enjoyed their time with the students and hope they have influenced these children positively.