Baxter’s first Family Literacy Night was an evening I will never forget. We had been waiting for months to share this occasion with our families. The atmosphere at the school was electric, with over 450 excited students and family members eager to attend the much-anticipated event. Students were arriving through the big glass doors of the school lobby with their mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings of all ages. Several teachers and I greeted everyone, and as every student arrived they were handed a booklet the teachers prepared describing the activities of the evening.
Students and their families were ushered into the cafeteria for a spaghetti dinner. The aroma in the room was much like an Italian restaurant with huge pots of spaghetti cooking on stovetops. The scent of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies wafted in the air. Families gathered together at the long tables, laughing and sharing stories with each other. Teachers wove in and out among the crowd, greeting students and parents.
Following dinner, students escorted their families out into the hallways where teachers staffed several literacy stations. They had spent weeks preparing materials for the variety of learning activities to be enjoyed by everyone, and were looking forward to sharing them with students and their families. As I walked through the halls I heard several comments from kids.
“Come over here Mama, we can make a book together.”
“Papa, I helped my teacher figure out the words to use in this crossword game.”
“Robbie, do you know what a synonym is?”
First-graders, just learning how to read, showed their parents how to make words with magnetic letters on cookie sheets. Fourth-graders created acrostic bookmarks out of construction paper, adorning them with glitter and feathers. Second-graders cut words from newspapers creating sentences and paragraphs demonstrating their newly learned skills. There was something for everyone and plenty of time for participants to wander from station to station.
Conversation bubbled among the visitors in anticipation of the appearance of our evening’s mystery guest. When planning this event, Ann, a third-grade teacher, told us about a storyteller named Walter the Giant whom she had heard at another school. His name sounded intriguing, so we researched his website and immediately knew we wanted him to entertain at our First Annual Literacy Night. Luckily his calendar was open for this evening.
As seven o’clock approached we welcomed everyone back into the cafeteria, announcing on the PA system that our mystery guest had arrived. The crowd hurried to fill rows of seats at the long tables extending out from the side walls. As Walter the Giant entered the room gasps could be heard from the crowd. He was 6’8” and carried about 300 pounds distributed evenly throughout his lumbering body. He had shoulder-length bushy hair, a full reddish-blond beard and a twinkle in his eye. He looked like a lumberjack with his overalls and red and black plaid shirt. Walter was a true storyteller; he sauntered up to the stage and immediately captured the audience with an imaginative story about Froggy getting ready for his first day of school.
Soon the audience was in stitches as Walter demonstrated how Froggy put on his socks, “Zip, Zip” and how Froggy put on his boots “Zup, Zup.” Students from the crowd were brought up on stage to demonstrate with him a second time, “Zip, Zip,” “Zup Zup.” Pretty soon everyone in the audience was “Zip Zipping” and “Zup Zupping” with Walter. He spent the next hour entertaining everyone with funny story after funny story. When it was time for him to depart, Walter received a standing ovation. Our mystery guest had been an overwhelming success.
A buzz filled the hallways as Literacy Night ended, and students and their families left.
“This was the best night ever.”
“Didn’t you just love Walter the Giant?”
“Susie, I didn’t know you knew how to read so many words.”
“I hope we can do this again.”
Our first Family Literacy Night at Baxter had surpassed our dreams. Everyone was leaving in good spirits and wanting more. We were proud of our school, and I was proud of our teachers who gave their time and energy to create a memorable evening for our students and their families. Before the night was over we were already planning our next Family Literacy Night.