Words of Wonder; Pershing Hill hosts Family Literacy Night for reading, bingo and fun

Pvt. Austin D. Higgins of the 241st Military Police Detachment reads to a group of students and their parents during Family Literacy Night on April 4 at Pershing Hill Elementary. (Photo by Maddie Ecker)

Dressed in blue and purple “Frozen” pajamas from the popular children’s movie, 6-year-old Jaiz-Lyn Smith clutched her recently won book to her chest.

Jaiz-Lyn was one of the many students who attended Pershing Hill Elementary School’s Family Literacy Night on April 4.

The 90-minute event included Bingo for Books and reading stations in the gym and Media Center.

Elementary school picture books and Nancy Drew novels lay waiting on cafeteria tables to be claimed by the eager students.

Robin Parker, the school’s reading specialist since 1996, helped organize the event.

“I hope that everyone has a good night and that maybe a future president is here tonight, picks up a book and develops a love of reading,” she said.

Parker became a member of the Maryland Book Bank in Baltimore and picked up 250 books for the literacy event. Children had the opportunity to win a book by playing Bingo for Books or having their name called from a ticket raffle.

“I’d love for every kid to leave with a book,” Parker said. “We want to promote reading at home because there’s no way they’re going to get better at reading unless they read at home.”

Building Strong Readers

Literacy nights are organized at Pershing Hill once a year and have a different focus. At last year’s event, parents learned about the school’s new reading program.

“It’s important for parents to come into the school building to see their own children enjoying reading and to see a ‘read aloud’ being modeled here by a guest reader,” Parker said. “I think it’s important for them to see how enticed kids can be by being read to.”

Parker, who has no military affiliation, has spent her educational career at Pershing Hill.

“I love the fact that the kids have been all over the world,” she said. “They’ve been places I haven’t been.

“In a small way, I feel like I’m serving the country by serving the students here. I’ve thought about leaving and going to a different school, but I can’t imagine leaving the military population. It’s a cool place to work.”

Pvt. Austin D. Higgins of the 241st Military Police Detachment, one of the reading volunteers, often stops by the elementary school during lunch to chat with the students.

“When I was growing up and I was in high school, I never got to talk to any police officers,” he said. “I think starting to expose [children] when they’re young makes it so much better in their adult years.

“I definitely think it’s really, really great that we have community policing to get involved with these kids and build that trust.”

Higgins, who graduated from high school in 2016 and shipped out to Fort Leonard Wood 10 days later, enjoys the relationship he’s building with the Pershing Hill students.

“It’s really incredible because you don’t really get that connection anymore, especially being in the military and also being a police officer,” Higgins said. “I think there’s a big divide between the youth and adults. I think [this event] builds bridges.”

A Love Of Reading

Shannon Woo brought her 8-year-old son Brayden to the event.

“The kids get to come out and have people read to them,” she said. “They realize reading is fun and not so boring.”

Woo, who volunteers at the school, reads to her son every night.

“He loves books,” said Woo, wife of Tech Sgt. Bruce Woo. The family has been reading the “Magic Tree House” series.

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Whitney Bellow of the Navy Information Operations Command Maryland attended the event with his two stepchildren, Fabiana and Gabriel.

“I think they need to see a positive example of the pleasure of literature,” Bellow said. “If they see good behavior modeled, hopefully they’ll imitate it.”

For Bellow, having police officers read to the students is a way to help youngsters become comfortable with authority figures.

“You’re seeing what members of the community [can] do to help and becoming comfortable with those who can help you,” he said. “If you’re ever in need, you won’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Nine-year-old Fabiana asked her stepfather to attend the reading event that morning.

The third-grader, who reads every day, was excited to win a Nancy Drew book during the event. Her favorite book series is “Goosebumps.”

“I heard there was reading and that you could win books,” she said. “I really liked [playing] bingo.”

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