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New Lebanon students prep for a whirlwind of reading

March 10, 2018 GMT

GREENWICH — A powerful nor’easter that blew through town Wednesday meant a slew of snow days for Greenwich kids.

On their first afternoon back Friday, Peter Bernstein had a question for all of the students at an assembly at New Lebanon School.

“Who was most excited about coming back to learn?” asked the Board of Education chairman.

Most children might shy at the suggestion, shocked that an adult couldn’t see the opportunity in a snow day. But a good smattering of hands reached up high to say they were glad to be reunited with their classmates and teachers. They wanted to be there.

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And like most things in school, Friday’s assembly was about learning. It was about reading — about celebrating literacy and engaging students in hours and hours with their noses tucked in books. Most of all, it was the kickoff for New Lebanon’s second annual Readathon.

The initiative does double duty as an educational tool and fundraiser. Students read as much as they can, whenever they can, and the materials they choose to eye can be vast and diverse. Comic books, magazines, Dr. Seuss — everything goes as long as it’s print on a page.

“Whether you’re reading a picture book or a chapter book, we just want you to read,” said Cheri Amster, a media specialist at New Lebanon.

When she flashed a slide with big red “x”s over technological favorites such as game systems and phones, the image drew groans from the crowd of kids. But she assured them, their smart devices weren’t going anywhere. She was just asking them to take a little break.

“All of that will be waiting for you when the Readathon is over,” she promised.

Right now, it’s time to get busy.

Until April 6, students will log the number of minutes they read and then tally their totals for a final statistic. Last year, the kids read over 95,000 minutes. This year, the school has set the bar even higher, with a goal of 100,000 minutes when the exercise comes to a close.

Kids can get sponsors — neighbors, friends, family — to make donations to the school depending on how much they read. Last year, the Readathon made about $4,000, according to Clare Kilgallen, co-president of New Lebanon’s Parent-Teacher Association. All of the funds go toward student enrichment programs.

For Kilgallen, the Readathon is a way to fight the achievement gap and address literacy among New Lebanon’s students.

“We really want to engage them and get them to enjoy it,” she said. “Part of it is building reading stamina.”

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The students who read or raise the most are slotted for a new Kindle as a prize, and other kids will be rewarded with pizza parties in class, Amazon gift cards, and most excitingly, glow-in-the-dark slime, at which all the children oohed and ahhed.

The assembly was interupted for a moment by a surprise speaker: Randy Feda, general superintendent at Gilbane Building Co. and the lead on-site for New Lebanon’s reconstruction project. As an alumnus of the school, Feda led the kids through a tutorial about what they watched outside their classroom windows. He taught them about wood chippers, and yukes, and drills, and of course, he brought up the blasting that they had all witnessed.

“Wasn’t it cool?” he asked.

Screams assured him that it was.

“Unfortunately, it’s over,” he said, to an audience-wide “aww.”

As he fielded questions about the project, most kids just wanted to know more about the explosion. Did he use real dynamite? Why did it need to be done?

One child politely raised his hand. “I don’t have a question, I have a comment,” he said. During the blasting, he remembered, he felt the whole floor vibrate.

Still, though big trucks and C-4 may be entertaining, Friday’s emphasis was on the Readathon. And to commemorate the occasion, another special guest made an appearance. Bernstein took the mic for a read aloud, where he breezed through the entire text of “School’s First Day of School.”

Bernstein told Greenwich Time he chose the story because it resonates with “anybody that’s ever been a new student at a school or anybody that’s had to go through change.”

“The core of the book is about a school’s apprehension about being new,” he said.

He urged all the kids to pick up a copy he bought for New Lebanon and log it in their minutes.

For Bernstein, his presence at the kickoff was about setting an example.

“I think it’s really important to model the behavior that we want our students to have,” he said.

An avid reader himself, Bernstein said one of his son’s first memories was of him devouring a Harry Potter book.

“Reading is the core skill that gets you into science, gets you into math, gets you into history,” he said. “Basically everything starts with reading.”