Staff and students at Dr. Thomas L. Higdon Elementary School readied for takeoff on Feb. 24 for a Read Across Charles County event. Keeping with the theme “Celebrate a Nation of Diverse Readers” the school was transformed into Higdon International Airport. Travel posters were displayed through the halls, terminal signs hung overhead to direct “travelers,” a room was turned into a Newsstand where students could pick out a book to read on their “flight.”

Principal Shannon Finnegan, Ed.D., and Vice-Principal Brad Buzby dressed as pilots, pretzels, and bottled water were handed out and a Mickey Mouse backpack mingled with luggage stacked at baggage claim near the front of the school.

“The theme was ‘Celebrate a Nation of Diverse Readers,’” Stephanie Campbell, learning resource teacher, said. “I took it literally. We wanted to give students an authentic experience.” Campbell reached out to airlines to see if they wanted to participate. Anything they could donate to help bring the theme to life, she would take. American Airlines came through with the posters, flight crew pins, blank boarding passes, and other items familiar to air travelers. The school’s PTO donated new books for the Newsstand and snacks for goodie bags.

Teachers, staff members, and guest readers took care of the travel plans. Books focused on different areas of the country and world were selected, students were told about where the authors grew up and how the areas inspired their writing and lives.

Students in Molly Reip’s first-grade class joined Superintendent Maria Navarro for a jaunt around the world as she read “Children Just Like Me,” by Barnabas and Anabel Kindersley. The book gives a view of international cultures while exploring the lives of children from Argentina to New Zealand to China to Israel. Literary snapshots show how children live and play with the Higdon students finding similarities with their peers around the globe.  

Piccowaxen Middle School Principal Wualanda Thenstead visited Higdon to read “Sprouting Wings: The True Story of James Herman Banning, the First African American Pilot to Fly Across the United States.” The book by Louisa Jaggar and Shari Becker with illustrations by Floyd Cooper, tells the story of Oklahoma native Banning using his own word and with the help of his nephew who was interviewed for the book.

School Resource Officer Eugene Caballero read “Cougar Crossing: How Hollywood’s Celebrity Cougar Helped Build a Bridge for City Wildlife” by Meeg Pincus with illustrations by Alexander Vidal to Kelly Suter’s first-grade class. The book is set in Los Angeles and follows P-22, a puma born in a national park near the city who crossed 16 lanes of notorious LA traffic to settle near the Hollywood sign. In a city that is home to many celebrities, P-22 has become famous, prompting residents and scientists to build a bridge for use by wildlife needing to cross Highway 101 to expand their territories.

Down the hall from Suter’s classroom, the kindergartners in Kate Kolbe’s class prepared to leave Maryland for Alabama. Before the students could embark, they needed to know where they were going. Dressed as a flight attendant, Kolbe brought up a map of the United States on the room’s Smartboard. The students quickly found Alabama by sounding out the word and finding the letters that corresponded on the map. Finding Maryland proved a little tricky. They easily sounded out the word but finding it on the map caused them to move in a bit closer. “It’s a little smaller,” Kolbe said, right before Malachi Mihanda pointed out the state on behalf of the class. The students, like others in the school, colored in the states on the map where their book took them.

Now that they knew where they were and where they were going, Kolbe gave each student a ticket which they turned in for a boarding pass. It was time to go. The hall served as the terminal, a table out in the hall was where they turned in their boarding passes. The students — some with their arms outstretched to their sides like wings — then made their way back to their classroom which was now Alabama. School counselor Kayleigh Fretwell was waiting in a safety vest like those worn by flight crews on tarmacs. She read “Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of the Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Huston,” by Alicia D. Williams and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara. The book tells the story of the author who grew up in Alabama but jumped around from Florida to Howard University to Harlem.  

“Reading is a way to travel the world without leaving home,” Finnegan said. “It opens doors and opportunities for children. Instead of keeping them ‘grounded,’ we want them to take flight.”

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