By Suzanne Schmidt
Hundreds of second-graders rushed onto the field at Freedom High School last Friday for the I Feel the Need to Read literacy festival.
Second-graders from MOSI Partnership Elementary School, Mort Elementary School and Riverhills Elementary School came to Freedom to participate in literacy activities. The Title 1 school students were able to color, make sentences and run through the obstacle course.
Freedom students in student government, drama, Café Freedom and cheerleading took children through the different activities.
Blake O’Connor, senior, is the president of Café Freedom club. He organized the event because he was inspired by his trip to the Aspen Ideas Fest through the Bezos Scholars Program at Aspen Institute. He was one of 12 students who were invited to meet influential people in a number of fields including Sandra Day O’ Connor, retired Supreme Court Justice and Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education.
“The whole point was to go to be inspired and bring back a program for the local community,” O’Connor said. “I had the idea to have a festival for child literacy. Literacy is the foundation for every academic field. You have to be able to read in order to be successful.”
The festival had a Dr. Seuss theme with each group of children named after a Dr. Seuss character. At the end of the celebration students came together to sing “Happy Birthday” to Dr. Seuss and eat cake.
Several organizations donated money including $1,000 from the Bezos Family Foundation, $200 from the New Tampa Rotary Club and Publix donated $100 for the cakes. The money raised was used to buy supplies for the activities and for goodie bags. Each student who attended left with a goodie bag with a book, bookmark, buttons, flashlight, pencil and handouts.
Lutz resident Mary Davis, senior, is a cheerleader at Freedom. She was helping to get the second-graders organized for the event.
“I just want the students to have fun,” Davis said. “We have a lot of things planned where the kids should have fun like the obstacle course and photo dictionary.”
Shannon Rehak, senior, was a team leader at the event. The Lutz resident said she loves working with young children.
“It is fun to watch them get so excited,” Rehak said. “I hope they have fun today and learn some new words.”
Alana Snead, second-grader at MOSI Elementary, said she had a lot of fun.
“I like that we get to do a lot of things,” Snead said. “I like art and here we get to do a lot of creations.”
Chantyana Dade, second-grader at MOSI Elementary, also loved all the activities.
“I like that we get to do this stuff with the older kids,” Dade said.
Kristin Mauro of Lutz said she wanted to help because she thinks reading is important. The Lutz resident is in the student government club at the school.
“It is a great way to get kids involved and encourage kids to read and learn,” Mauro said. “Reading is vital in today’s society; it is the foundation for everything else. Dr. Seuss is a great way to do it.”
Senior Lyndsie Sigler of Lutz took it a step further by dressing up as Cindy Lou Who from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
“We are trying to get the kids excited about reading,” Sigler said. “The sentence formation activity is great because it helps with their grammar and sentence formation.”
Fabian Aceves of Lutz joined the Café Freedom Club because he wants to help children learn to read. Through the club, students from the school go to Title 1 schools in the area to read to second-graders.
“Literacy is very important for children,” Aceves said. “Some families don’t have the option to get their kids books or they can’t read to them because they don’t speak English. This helps them to learn how to read, which is important because not many people read anymore.”
Rosemary Owens, assistant principal for curriculum at Freedom, said she was impressed by how much work the students did to organize the event.
“This has been an amazing process to see,” Owens said. “It is exciting to see the enthusiasm and passion they have to make this happen. I have found a level of caring you wouldn’t think would be in high school students.”
The event went so well Owens said the juniors involved hope to do it again next year, but next year they want to make it bigger. By the end of a few years, she is hoping to get all the high schools and Title 1 schools in the area involved.
Owens said the students learned a lot of valuable skills from organizing the event.
“They learned to network,” Owens said. “They learned not to take no for an answer or to find an alternative route. Hopefully our young guests will remember this day years from now when they pick up a book to read.”