Four celebrity guests appeared at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School this week. Well, sort of.
Staff members Chris Parisi, Jorge Ortiz and Angie Rennekamp dressed up as Adam Levine, Pharrell Williams and Christina Aguilera, who are three of the judges on the NBC singing competition “The Voice.” Jennifer Regruth decided to portray Miranda Lambert rather than Lambert’s husband, Blake Shelton, who is the fourth judge on the show.
Sixteen other staff members, in groups of two to five, served as contestants. Instead of singing, as the contestants do on the TV show, each group read part of a book to try and get the judges to turn their chairs and pick them for their team.
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It was part of a convocation Monday at the Seymour school to get students fired up for the annual Spring Reading Program, which begins today and has been a tradition for more than 30 years. Literacy coach Bridget Longmeier came up with the theme “The Reading Voice.”
Needless to say, the teachers serving as the judges had a good time and jumped at the opportunity.
“I’m a country girl at heart, and I had all this stuff at home,” Regruth, a fourth-grade teacher, said of her fringe jacket, boots and cowboy hat. “I used to line dance, and I love country music more than I watch ‘The Voice.’ But I like it. When Bridget suggested it, I was happy to get into it and do it. It was so fun.”
Rennekamp, a second-grade teacher, donned a blond wig and flashy outfit to look like pop singer Aguilera.
“Of course, with Christina, the gaudier, the better — big jewelry, leather pants, the whole nine yards,” she said. “I have a first-grader here at school, so he really thinks it’s cool. My thing is, when I was putting my costume together, I was trying to keep it hidden from him so there would be more of a surprise.”
After watching YouTube videos of the Maroon 5 frontman, Parisi, a Title I assistant, chose to wear a black button-up shirt and sleeves on his forearms to look like Levine’s tattoos.
And for Ortiz, the school district’s translator, it was a little difficult since he had never watched “The Voice.” But once he decided to be Williams for a day, he began watching the show.
“Right now, I can say I’m happy,” Ortiz said, making a play on the singer’s popular “Happy” song.
The four teachers agreed it was good to see the school’s staff come together to get kids motivated to read for the next few weeks.
“Just the enthusiasm of the building, everybody really gets behind this program and tries to make it fun for the kids,” Regruth said. “All of the other teachers that came in and did the sections of reading were amazing, and they all jumped right on board, too.”
Longmeier wrote a script for the convocation, but some of it was ad-lib.
Curing spring fever
One aspect that remained on track was the message she wanted to get across — letting kids know when to use their reading voice and when to use their thinking voice.
“I model this with them when I am reading a book aloud to them,” she said. “When I am just simply reading the words — using expression, phrasing, fluency, etc. — I am holding up my reading voice sign. But when I stop and think out loud about the characters, plot, etc. and I start making predictions, drawing conclusions, making inferences, I am using my thinking voice, and I hold up the thinking voice sign.”
Longmeier said the kids even make their own signs so they become aware of when to use each type of voice.
“We have found that this really helps them become aware of their thoughts as they read, and this in turn helps with comprehension,” she said.
While the school has had a reading program for a long time, it started doing a kickoff convocation since Longmeier began there 15 years ago.
“It’s just to get them excited about it,” she said. “For the kindergarten, it’s all new to them. The rest, if they were here (in the past), they know how the program works.”
It doesn’t matter what books the students read. It’s all about how much time they spend outside the school day reading.
“It’s that time of year where spring fever is kind of kicking in, too, and a lot of them want to be outside,” Longmeier said. “But we’re just trying to keep reading going for enjoyment, too. Not so much that they have to read but they want to go home and read something that they can pick.”
Each student receives a form to track reading time. Going along with this year’s theme, parents will initial next to an image of a microphone for every 10 minutes their child reads.
Taking it to the next level
On Fridays, students who record at least 10 minutes of reading that week will be rewarded with prizes, such as stickers, pencils and bookmarks. Special prizes will go to each classroom’s top reader.
“They’ll kind of see once we get into it, if they forget their paper the first week and they see all the prizes and everybody getting excited, participation picks up,” Longmeier said.
At the end of the program, the goal is for each student to have read for 90 minutes. Those who reach that mark will receive a T-shirt that has “The Voice” logo on it, but with a hand holding a book instead of a microphone.
Also, in keeping with tradition, they will get to release a balloon during a balloon launch May 11 at the school. The top reader in each class will get to launch two balloons.
“Usually, everybody reads their 90 minutes, and that’s a tribute to the teachers promoting it,” Longmeier said. “We always figure out our total minutes as a building that we read and try to beat previous years.”
Longmeier said the convocation was a great way to get everyone on the same page and geared up to read.
“I was chuckling over here with them ad-libbing and doing selfies,” she said. “They just take it to the next level, as ‘The Voice’ would say.”
Principal Tony Hack also praised everyone involved.
“I just appreciate the teachers stepping up,” he said. “The enthusiasm of the staff is what really makes this program contagious for the kids. We couldn’t do it without the teachers.”