Cat in the Hat visits Benton Elementary after its students meet reading goals

Monday, March 17, 2008 | 7:17 p.m. CDT; updated 1:03 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Students let out excited gasps and cheers as the Cat in the Hat appeared at Benton Elementary on Friday afternoon to reward them for reaching their “books read” goal for Read Across America.

Benton Elementary was chosen by the MU chapter of the Missouri National Education Association to receive free books and goody bags for student’s efforts in meeting classroom-set goals throughout the past three weeks for Read Across America.

According to MU student Chad Brueckner, Read Across America is a nationwide effort to encourage students to set and reach specific reading goals.

MU students began working on writing the grant for this year’s book drop-off in May 2007, working with Scholastic to supply books. Each student received two free books, which totaled about 500 books, Brueckner said.

“We write the grants and are in charge of getting the books, but we wouldn’t be able to do this without the faculty of the school,” Brueckner said.

The Missouri National Education Association has been doing books drop-offs at schools in Columbia for the past six years, said Steve McLuckie, statewide college advisor for the education association.

This is the first year that it has been done at Benton. Past book drop-offs have been held at Parkade and Field Elementary schools in Columbia.

“We generally do one per year so that we can give a book to every child,” McLuckie said.

Students filled the gym wearing “Cat in the Hat” and “Horton Hears a Who” hats made of construction paper.

Teachers explained to students that the education association’s members wanted to give treats to people who met their goal and then introduced the special guest. The Cat in the Hat watched as teachers shared their classroom’s goal, announcing that each class had surpassed that goal. Students and teachers applauded and paused to pat themselves on the back.

Fourth-grader Mason Morris said he is proud that Benton Elementary participated in Read Across America.

“Now kids know more about books and know what kinds of authors they like,” Morris said.

The entire fourth grade set a goal to read a total of 12,000 minutes at home during Read Across America and ended up surpassing that goal, Morris said.

“I am so proud of each child,” said Michelle Shepard, public-relations chairwoman for Columbia’s education association. “They have worked hard to meet each goal.”

Along with setting goals for each class, Read Across America activities at Benton included a “Munch and Read,” where students were able to have a reading party with popcorn donated by the school’s partners in education. Earlier on Friday the entire school participated in “stop, drop and read” – 30 minutes that parents, teachers and students devoted to reading.

“The MU students did all of the work and did a fabulous job,” said Eryca Neville, MU’s education association’s faculty advisor. “The teachers did a fantastic job. You can’t ask for better teachers, administrators and staff.”

Brueckner, a secondary education major at MU, said he was excited for the opportunity to dress up as the 8-foot tall cat.

“I am very proud of the students of Benton Elementary for how they took their reading goals seriously,” the cat said, during an interview after the event.

Click here to see photographs of the event.

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