Kindness and community: A look at this year’s virtual literacy day

This year’s Literacy Day will take place on April 3 with an education panel beforehand on March 29. (Photo courtesy of Gam Pham ’22)

Kindness is the theme for this year’s Literacy Day, an education-based initiative run by the America Reads program through the Landis Center. Although the event is virtual this year, student volunteers from the college will be working with local elementary school students for a full day of activities related to this theme.

Most years, this event takes place at the college.

“We’d invite them to Lafayette, in Upper [Marlo room], and we would host an event for them…starting at 8a.m. to like 2 or 3p.m. We decide on a theme. We decide on a [featured] book. We read the book together, and then we rotate through different events that have to relate to that book,” explained Gam Pham ’22, the director of operations and tutor coordinator for America Reads.

Last year’s theme of diversity and inclusion incorporated activities representing different cultures worldwide, including painting paper lanterns with the Asian Cultural Association, coloring calavera masks with Refugee Action and dancing with the Salsa club, according to Pham.

Last year, Easton Mayor Sal Panto, Jr. also did a reading of the book “The Day You Begin.”

Coordinators for the program included a variety of student leaders that volunteered to plan activities for the kids. This year, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, the Lafayette Happiness Project and RISE are activity hosts.

In a normal year, there are opportunities open for all students to volunteer as “buddies” who are paired with the kids and stay with them throughout the course of the day. At the end of the event, the kids are typically given goodie bags, along with a letter written to them by a Lafayette student.

This Literacy Day looks different from other years, however, with kids joining in on their computers.

“The SWE team I think will be hosting a discussion with the kids. APO will have a bingo sheet and some bookmarks so that the kids can keep track of how they can demonstrate kindness in their community. RISE will be creating zines and then the Happiness Project will be talking about the rainbow fish coloring sheets,” said Pham.

Additionally, instead of receiving letters in goodie bags, the kids are receiving typed letters from Lafayette students.

“In this year’s letter, people are writing things to encourage the students to continue improving their literacy and education, encouraging them to be kind to one another…Some people are also choosing to write stories about their own personal acts of kindness,” said Sam Scott ’22, director of philanthropy in Pi Beta Phi, one of the organizations that helps coordinate activities for the event.

Organizers are still trying to recreate an environment as close to normal as possible, however.

“We are putting together packs to send home with the kids so that they have the supplies for all the activities…they get a copy of the book,” said Kaelyn Gormley ’22, who is leading Alpha Phi Omega’s Literacy Day committee and is also the activities coordinator for the event.

Furthermore, Gormley explained that some other clubs like the Salsa Club and the Dance Team created performance videos for the children, which will be played during the Literacy Day virtual event.

And the theme of kindness was certainly deliberate this year, according to Pham who expressed a need for greater connectivity and happiness after a socially isolating and discouraging year.

“I know through Zoom, the kids aren’t feeling the typical bond with their teachers and their friends, and so we thought the theme of kindness would be nice in bringing a community together,” Pham said.

This year’s chosen book “Kindness Counts” follows the journey of a boy whose initial kind act has different effects on others in the community, leading him to discover that all members of the community are related through this act of kindness.

“That’s something that we also wanted to emulate this year, and to demonstrate to the kids that even if you’re not physically connected to these people and even though you don’t get to see them in person, you can still demonstrate acts of kindness,” Pham said.

The Literacy Day is an extension of the year-long work America Reads does in connecting federal work-study students with local children in Easton and be their tutors. The day is preceded by a month-long book drive co-sponsored by the Pi Beta Phi sorority, where students can donate books that are later distributed among the elementary kids.

The virtual event this year will be held between 1:00-3:00 p.m. on May 1, and will be preceded by a virtual education panel on March 29 where experienced educators will discuss kindness in an educational setting. Panel members will include Danielle Gonzalez, principal of March Elementary School, Education Professor and teacher at Pen Argyl High School Cathy Novello, Psychology Professor Lauren Myers and Mike Squarcia, Director of Counseling Services at North Hunterdon-Voorhees School District.

Correction 3/28/21: Literacy Day was previously supposed to take place on April 3 but has been moved to May 1.

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