PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Classroom doors, and children’s imaginations, opened to the world March 7-11 during the 4th Annual Great Diocesan Read Aloud.
Students in 80 classrooms from 40 Catholic schools and academies throughout the diocese hosted authors who read their stories via Zoom videoconferencing. Also reading to classes were special guests, including Bishop Robert Brennan and Christine Persichette, anchor for Currents News.
“The kids were very well prepared,” said Bishop Brennan, who read to first-graders at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Academy in Brooklyn.
They were fully engaged,” he added, “and I got the impression they enjoyed it.”
The Great Diocesan Read Aloud (GDRA) is held during National Reading Month to help children learn to love reading. It was organized and sponsored by Catholic Telemedia Network (CTN), part of the education division at DeSales Media Group — which develops curriculum-based instructional media resources that support the educators — and is the parent company of The Tablet.
CTN works to connect literacy efforts with the educational technology already in classrooms throughout the diocese, according to Laura Hickey, senior instructional technology specialist at CTN and organizer of the GDRA.
But this year’s event more than doubled the number of schools participating over last year when 17 joined in, Hickey said. That is because teachers have become more fluent at integrating digital technology in their classrooms, such as videoconferencing, because of the pandemic, she said.
“Teachers saw the opportunity to open their classrooms to guests from around the world,” Hickey said.
For example, British author Laura James read her 2017 title, “Captain Pug (The Adventures of Pug)” to three classes: Midwood Catholic Academy, Brooklyn, second grade; St. Rose of Lima Catholic Academy, Queens, first grade; and St. Gregory the Great Catholic Academy, Queens, first grade.
Author Rosanne Parry of Portland, Oregon read from her book “Last of the Name,” which came out in 2019. Her audiences were at St. Margaret Catholic Academy, Queens, sixth grade; and St. Mel’s Catholic Academy, Queens, grades 3 and 4.
The story read by Bishop Brennan transported the students back to Ireland in the Middle Ages.
“The Blackbird’s Nest: Saint Kevin of Ireland,” by Jenny Schroedel, shares the legend of St. Kevin of Glendalough (498-618), a monk who was a bully as a child, but learned kindness when a blackbird built a nest in his hand.
“So God changed his heart,” Bishop Brennan told his audience. “That’s something we all need to do sometimes.”
The bishop also quizzed the students on the story. Some held out their hands to mimic St. Kevin’s acceptance of the blackbird and its nest.
“You remember the story pretty well,” Bishop Brennan said. “Good job!”
Later, Bishop Brennan told The Tablet that he had visited St. Kevin’s home in Glendalough. He said the story he read to students appealed to his Irish ancestry, but also his love of Irish spirituality.
Persichette, who participated in GDRA last year, read to kindergartners at Divine Mercy Catholic Academy, Queens. For this year’s event, she could not resist reading the same book she presented last year — Richard E. Specht Jr.’s “A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness.”
It’s the story about a young farmer who discovers that kindness, like a seed, grows and spreads if one takes the time to cultivate it.
Persichette has three sons, including 11-year-old twins, who love the book. Her audience loved it too. Last year, she read to second graders, so she was concerned the kindergarteners might not follow the story.
“I didn’t expect kindergartners to be so good and to pay attention, especially to somebody speaking to them through a computer,” Persichette said. “But they were great. And they had comments about the story.”
The news anchor also read for pre-kindergarten students at Our Lady Of The Snows Catholic Academy, Queens. She said she might share the book again at next year’s GDRA.
“I just really like the message in the book,” she said. “I mean, how could you go wrong with the message about being nice to each other?”