Lots of reading happening at Atkinson's Family Literacy Night in Freeport


Caroline G. Atkinson Intermediate School was abuzz with activity last Thursday as droves of Freeport students and their parents gathered for the 6th annual Family Literacy Night -— dedicated to fostering a love of reading and literacy within the community.

The theme for the May 23 event was “Red Carpet Reads,” celebrating books that have been adapted into movies and engaging students with a variety of activities designed to inspire and entertain.

Mary LaMotta, Freeport Public Schools director of English language arts, described the event as the yearly culmination of the district’s ongoing efforts to promote literacy.

“It’s really to inspire a love of reading around the district and outside of school,” LaMotta said. “So students participated in lots of activities throughout the school year — they read books, and then some of them actually made their own movie” about the book they read.

615 students then voted for what they thought were the best student created movie trailers, and the winners from Bayview and Dodd – for “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days,” respectively, were then premiered in the Atkinson auditorium during Family Literacy Night.

Throughout the different classrooms lining what was dubbed “Blockbuster Boulevard,” themed activities brought stories to life.

Featured exhibits were based around “How to Train Your Dragon,” the beloved DreamWorks title that was derived originally from a book; “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” a favorite of schoolchildren that was adapted for the big screen in 2010; and “Encanto,” the 2021 Disney movie which drew inspiration from Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez’s novel, “100 Years of Solitude.”

The now-famous Atkinson “Earth Balloon,” located in the small gym, was converted into the staging ground for the Truffula Forest from “The Lorax,” Dr. Seuss’s classic take on environmentalism.

In the Wonka’s Factory section of the event, students participated in a digital tour of the chocolate factory, and designed their own chocolate creations, which will be 3D printed and donated to local firefighters.

Students also experienced a virtual reality chocolate sorting game.

LaMotta emphasized the extensive planning that went into organizing such a multifaceted event. “It’s really like a whole year of planning,” she said. “We have a big team, including coaches and external vendors. High school students volunteer and help out, which is really great.”

The event also featured a collaboration with Scholastic’s Family & Community Engagement, or FACE, program, a program designed to provide communities with researched-based solutions to help students thrive inside and outside of the classroom, allowing the district to provide free books to students to kick off summer reading.

“Every student gets a free book to take home,” LaMotta said.

Reflecting on the impact of Family Literacy Night, LaMotta stressed that the event leaves a lasting impression on students and families alike.

“It builds such a positive love of reading,” she said. “Students talk about it for years to come, and some of our staff members have children here who always ask when Family Literacy Night is. It’s our most highly attended event, and parents get really excited about it, too.”

“The whole purpose is for students to become lifelong learners,” Freeport Schools superintendent Kishore Kuncham, who was present at the event, said. “All the research does say that those who are early readers — those who are continuing to be good readers — do phenomenally well not only in academics but in life.

“So the literacy card plays a major role, plays a great role for our students to be great readers right from childhood that (will) really open up horizons for them,” Kuncham added.

Julian Jean-Louis, 10, who attends Leo F. Giblyn Elementary School, perhaps had the most succinct analysis of the event. When asked about his favorite part of the event, he said, “The VR headset,” and his favorite book was “Dog-man.”

“It’s like a dog-headed cop,” he said of the book, suggesting that any further explanation would only be superfluous.

And to the organizers of Family Literacy Night, Julian said, “You are wonderful. Keep doing this stuff in the future.”