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Clairton students debut Holiday Reading Program

| Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, 5:21 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Parent reader Misty Laverick gives an animated presentation of 'The Night Before Christmas' to her step-daughter's fifth-grade class at Clairton Education Center on Thursday.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Author Bud Geissler, seated at left, and illustrator Joe Glemba share 'The Fairy Clause' with Clairton Elementary students Jerzee Sutton, Niyah Ramsey, Kyzyah Jamison and Darreace Robinson during an after-school program on Thursday.

Clairton Elementary students shared the gift of reading with classroom guests on Thursday.

The school's first Holiday Reading Program brought parents and a local author into classrooms to share Christmas classics, including “The Night Before Christmas,” and a few modern favorites such as “The Biggest Snowball of All” and “Mouse's First Christmas.”

“It was enjoyable to be able to do a family thing and share it with her whole class,” Mindy Bates said, walking through the first-grade hall with her daughter Angelina Sacunas. “The kids kept giving me more and more books to read.”

While Bates' schedule keeps her from attending every classroom program, she said she tries to be there for her daughters — her eldest, BreAnne Shaw, is a high school senior — any chance she can.

“It adds a family value,” Bates said. “It keeps you involved in your kids' activities, and it keeps a good relationship with their teachers.”

Principal Magi Berger said the impetus behind inviting parents to participate in class is to get them more involved in how students achieve and value their education.

“It's important to engage parents in as much of the academics as possible,” Berger said. “It reinforces everything we tell them here when they see their parents in the classroom.”

Students in Sally Kunkel's fifth-grade class said guest readers brought a new perspective and enthusiasm to the classroom.

Olivia Hicks said she especially enjoyed hearing from Misty Laverick, stepmother of her classmate Destini Forrester.

“It's fun to listen,” Olivia said. “She put a lot of expression into the words. It was interesting.”

Destini said she was proud to have Laverick reading to her friends.

“She was really funny,” she said. “Now everyone knows how funny she is.”

Laverick said the experience was about more than just laughs.

“I love to read,” Laverick said. “I love that my daughter and all of her classmates are excited about reading books.”

Elementary students are required to read three books during their winter break, and many got a head start after school on Thursday, when they heard from “The Fairy Clause?” author Bud Geissler of Irwin and illustrator Joe Glemba of Elizabeth Township.

Geissler and Glemba read to students enrolled in Clairton's CASTLE program for middle school students and its sibling counterpart for elementary kids. Children received signed copies of the book along with gifts donated to the program through Toys for Tots.

“It's one thing to have parents reading stories written by authors who students will never meet,” Glemba said. “Here, the story's creators are right in front of them.”

Geissler, a McKeesport Area graduate, and Glemba, a Serra grad, have been lifelong friends. They played sports together and attended Duquesne University.

“The Fairy Clause?” was inspired by Geissler's son Traye, who lost a tooth on Christmas Eve. What started as a poem grew into a 24-page children's book with full-color illustrations.

Geissler and Glemba have made a handful of stops at McKeesport Area and Norwin schools since the book was released this month.

“Part of our responsibility is to connect with students and let them know the community wants what's best for them,” Geissler said. “As we share our story with them, their world expands. They're recognizing connections between their curriculum and reality.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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