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Students Bring Dr. Seuss, Engagement to Local Classrooms

Photo by Patrick Bradley.

The saying goes that reading can take you places.

In the case of AU students on Friday, March 1st, reading took them off campus and into elementary schools across DC to engage with local children.

Dr. Seuss Day, a national event held annually to celebrate the birthday of the legendary children’s author, sends groups into public school classrooms to help promote education by simply picking up a book and reading aloud. This year moves AU toward its 10th anniversary taking part.

Donald Curtis, coordinator of programs and operations in AU’s Center for Community Engagement & Service, has organized AU’s hand in the event for the past five years. He believes the benefits for participating students are numerous.

“It gets students off campus into different communities and public schools,” he said. “Students love to engage with kids when it comes to volunteer work. This matches well with that.”

Elementary education freshman Reka Keller has a history with Dr. Seuss Day. Joining this year’s group of 60 AU students reading classics such as The Sneetches, The Lorax, and Oh, the Places You’ll Go, she was thrilled to be part of AU’s efforts in the community.

“It’s important to bring awareness to different authors, but Dr. Seuss is just a good thing for kids to listen to with all the rhyming,” she said. “I did Dr. Seuss Day in high school…When I heard AU did it, I definitely wanted to do it. I love reading Dr. Seuss. It’s so fun.”

Spanish language and area studies major Chante Harris read alongside Keller at Powell Elementary School. Both volunteer as tutors with Jump Start, a national literacy program for children in public schools. Dr. Seuss Day provides another outlet for both Keller and Harris to continue their studies with the experiential learning AU is known for.

“It’s good not only to see students in school but understanding their environment, their parents, and where they come from,” Harris said. “I had never worked with Latin American students first-hand. So, this was a good experience.”

AU students – including the women’s soccer team – donned the iconic Cat in the Hat striped headwear to read in DC’s Brightwood and Bruce Monroe elementary schools as well. Overall, AU participants engaged with over 1200 students in more than 30 classrooms.

A group of 17 Washington semester students from Brigham Young University also joined AU for the event, gaining insight into American University’s culture of service.

“Education is not complete without service. This is a good opportunity to do that,” said BYU senior David Sturgess. “It’s something that…AU does, serving others in the community, which I think is excellent.”

Curtis believes this type of engagement is particularly critical for grounding and educating many AU students as they pursue careers in government and nonprofit organizations.

“If I go to work on the Hill and I’m talking about policy and education reform but have no engagement or connection with the people, then what does that say about the way in which we educate our students?” he said. “In order for us to have a more productive, well-informed student body, you have to have students engaged in that process.”

Still, at its core, AU’s participation in Dr. Seuss Day stems from its deep commitment to making the world – whether at home or abroad – a better place. Between programs like Alternative Breaks, DC Reads, and others, the event is just one piece of AU fulfilling that commitment.

“In the strategic plan, we talk about bringing the world to AU and AU to the world. I think we can’t talk about ‘the world’ unless we talk about the developing world within ten miles of campus,” he explained. “We have a responsibility to the community we serve.”