C.N. Pritts celebrates the importance of reading

| Saturday, March 30, 2013, 12:26 a.m.

Lions, giraffes and penguins were scurrying through the hallways of Clifford N. Pritts Elementary School recently when the school celebrated its 10th year of hosting an annual reading night.

More than 300 students, parents and faculty participated in the free event, which was themed “Wild About Books.”

The activity is sponsored by the school's Parent Teacher Group and Title 1.

The evening of family entertainment was split into two parts: a storytelling portion and a dinner and show portion. The wild animal theme was prevalent.

“It's been a wonderful experience to see this event grow and evolve over the years,” said guidance counselor Kristen Hunt, who has been participating in the reading night events since they began.

For the dinner and show, participants enjoyed a spaghetti dinner while watching a performance of Dr. Seuss' “If I Ran the Zoo,” presented by Stage Right of Greensburg.

The reading portion of the evening included stories read by community volunteers and faculty. Storytellers incorporated themes from the books into each session, making it an interactive experience for the children.

This year's readers included Connellsville Area School District Superintendent Daniel Lujetic and Robin Thomas Hegan, illustrator of the book “The Lizard House Adventure.”

Hegan said the book was loosely based on a bear that had a scar from an injury. The bear had been seen many times around the Stahlstown area.

In the book, he is called Boo Boo Bear and sports a Band-Aid on a different spot in each drawing.

“It's really great for kids around the area to relate a real bear in the area with the bear in the story, and they like to ask a lot of questions about the real bear and Boo Boo Bear in the book,” Hegan said.

“This is really important because kids get to see their teachers outside the classroom and see that reading can be fun, not just something they have to do,” said Hunt.

Guides — volunteer Parent Teacher Group members clad in animal and zoo keeper costumes — led groups from room to room through the artistically decorated hallways.

In the weeks leading up to reading night, students, faculty and volunteers created artworks of different wild animals and their ecosystems to decorate the building.

“We all work together to do this, and it's amazing,” said Parent Teacher Group member and coordinator of the event, Jennifer Shawley. “You don't find this at a lot of schools.”

At the conclusion of the evening, students were invited to visit the Discovery Outpost where each child was given a book and a drawstring backpack with bookmarkers and a pencil — a gift from the Parent Teacher Group in celebration of the event's decade anniversary.

Additionally, a drawing was held and a gift basket was won by one student from each grade level, with one student winning a grand-prize gift basket. Local businesses and personal donors contributed money or items to fill the baskets.

“It's so nice that businesses are willing to help us out,” said Shawley. “They were very generous.”

Donors included Farkas Masonry, Laurel Highlands Phone Company, Standard Bank-Ligonier Branch, Speedy Meedy, Rob's Carpentry, Country Pie Shoppe, Target, Collections by Marty, and Seven Springs Resort.

Saltlick Township Volunteer Fire Department participated by assisting with parking and traffic control, and mascots from Dairy Queen, Seven Springs and Yogi Bear Park attended.

In honor of the 10th anniversary of reading night, former school principal Karen Piper, innovator and inventor of the event, was invited to attend. Piper said of all the projects she undertook in her years at C.N. Pritts, reading night — originally called Dinner and a Book — was her favorite.

“I'm thrilled to see everyone still doing it,” Piper said. “I hope it continues for another 10 years.”

“About 10 years ago our principal at the time, Karen Piper, came up with the idea of and started a reading night to get families involved in reading with their children,” recalled Hunt.

For admittance, participants were asked to bring cookies to be served as dessert for the meal and a canned good. Shawley said they usually collect about four boxes of food each year for the Normalville Food Bank.

“Title 1 pays for the food and entertainment, and the event is all run by volunteers,” Hunt said.

Linda Harkcom and Cami DiBattista are freelance writers.

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