Connie Sullivan, a fourth-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, has shared with her students “real reading material across America” thanks to the books she has put together for her classroom with the support of an award from Newtown Allies for Change (NAFC).
Last year, Sullivan shared that she received a Supporter for Allies for Change cash award from NAFC, a “volunteer-led grassroots advocacy organization to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in Newtown,” according to the group’s website ( newtownallies.org ). ).
Sullivan said she earned the award last school year after completing other projects to make sure all members of the school community were represented in the classroom. She did not apply for the award and it was a pleasant surprise when she received it.
In accepting the cash award, Sullivan focused on how the annual day to celebrate the National Education Association’s Read Across America program, Read Across America Day, is celebrated every year on March 2. The annual event marks the anniversary of Dr. Seuss’ birth and has become a celebration of the author.
Sullivan wanted “real reading across America,” she said.
Her efforts turned into a project to find a book that represented every state in the country. Sullivan said she chose books that represent and celebrate different cultures and landscapes in the United States. She made sure the collection included images of skin color, religion and gender.
The National Education Association describes its Read Across America program as “the nation’s largest celebration of reading.” And this year, the national Read Across America program is focusing on “motivating children and teens to read with events, partnerships and reading resources that are relevant to everyone, for everyone,” according to the NEA website (nea.org). “Titles and resources offered [National Education Association’s] Read Across America books include books where students can see themselves reflected, as well as books that allow readers to see a world or character that might be different from them. Readers who feel included, acknowledged, and part of the world are engaged readers.
To begin her tour of America’s books, Sullivan said she created a document with a list of different states, including Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, and picture books. Sometimes she chose a book to represent a condition, and sometimes she chose a story about a person from that condition.
“I just wanted to make sure it was connected, that every one of the states was represented,” Sullivan said.
After researching books and selecting states, she worked with the Sandy Hook Elementary School library to see if a book was already in the school library, and if not, she collected a copy.
“This project allows me to introduce my students to the United States,” Sullivan said.
She has shared one book with her fourth graders. The books cover a variety of topics, from women’s rights, conservation and workers’ rights to inventions.
One book Sullivan shared with students is called No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas by Tonya Bolden. Sullivan said the book is about Groves, who was born a slave, migrated to Kansas, amassed land and built a potato farm. The students really responded when they learned that Groves invented potato chips.
“It’s cool for fourth graders. It’s interesting,” Sullivan said.
Nonfiction books capture the imagination of fourth graders.
Another book is about Marjory Stoneman, who worked to protect the Everglades. She has books that describe the men and women who fought against segregation. Two books that stood out to the students were The Girl With a Mind for Math: The Ray Montag Story by Julia Finley Mosk and Mr. Ferris and his wheel According to Sullivan, the author is Kathryn Gibbs Davis.
Fortunately, since most of the books are biographies, students have enjoyed non-fiction books about people.
Sullivan also highlighted Virginia’s book, A Case of Love: The Battle for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko. Sullivan said there are children who see the books she reads and they see themselves and their families depicted on the pages.
“It’s really important for them to know that they’re included and that they’re a part of this amazing country,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan shared a collection of books that grew from her original plan to include the Common Core State Standards, which include reading, social studies, speaking and language arts.
“I can get all that instruction while giving them the background knowledge of all these people who have made a difference that they may not have heard of,” Sullivan reflected.
And what is the book that Sullivan chose to represent Connecticut? The Case for Cow Taxation: A True Story of Suffrage Peggy Deitz Shea and Iris Van Rynbach.
“Now I have to talk to them about it [the Women’s Suffrage Movement]” said Sullivan, clearly excited.
Sullivan reads to her students every day.
In her classroom, she keeps a bulletin board with a map of the United States. After reading the book, the map connects the visual image of the book to the state it represents using a string.
“It’s been great,” Sullivan said of the project as a whole.
Education Editor Eliza Wang can be reached at [email protected]
A map in Sandy Hook Elementary fourth-grade teacher Connie Sullivan’s classroom highlights the books the class has read that depict different states.