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High School East students-- who led a presentation on how to fold the American flag-- stand with Staff Sergeant Alex Leon (center) and HSE safety officer Scott Kenny (right) during the NEA Big Read kickoff event held Jan. 23 at East Dover Elementary School.

Grant-funded Literacy Campaign Begins With Family-Friendly Event

A camo truck sat in front of East Dover Elementary School Jan. 23 as families entered for a fun-filled evening honoring veterans and themed after Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, the district's NEA Big Read selection for 2018-2019.

In fact, there was no mistaking the night's theme. American flags abounded, and 60s music played in the main entrance foyer, a nod to O'Brien's Vietnam War-based modern classic. Children and attendees were provided drawstring bags-- What do WE carry? was a question explored throughout the event-- as well as USA flag pins. Everyone was excitedly greeted by Principal Matthew Gray, Supervisor of Instruction JoAnn Nocera, and East Dover staff adorned in red, white, and blue.

In the gym, Nocera-- who led the event's planning-- greeted attendees and introduced a read-a-loud of the K-5 companion to The Things They Carried, a book titled The Wall by Eve Bunting, which details a child's visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. High School East's safety officer Scott Kenny and a handful of his students then presented on how to fold the American flag, which was preceded by an emotional playing of "Taps."

From there, attendees had a range of options. Some children remained in the gym for fun and physical mindALIGNED activities based on the novel, while others wrote and designed cards dedicated to lost loved ones (including pets) for placement on the Wall of Honor which was created by art teacher Karen Pomeroy. Parents took part in a book discussion on The Things They Carried led by teachers Amy Naecker and Beth Pokorny. High school T.E.A.M. volunteers and seemingly the entire East Dover staff was on hand to assist with all facets of the event.

Snacks, book giveaways, and a raffle rounded out the special evening, and provided the ideal start to the next month and a half of programming that culminates with author Tim O'Brien visiting Toms River March 28.

"The Things They Carried, like many of the NEA Big Read selections, is not exactly a light read and is geared toward older students and adults," said Mike Kenny, coordinator of the office of grants and communication. "But its themes are clearly accessible and ripe for exploration at all levels, and we're always striving to make NEA Big Read a genuine K-12 and beyond program. What East Dover and its staff have done for this kickoff event and the program overall is remarkable. By offering a range of fun and relevant activities for all ages, they've hosted an event that was equal parts emotional and celebratory. They've raised the bar for what the NEA Big Read kickoff can be."

For more about Big Read and the upcoming month and a half of programming, visit the district's NEA Big Read website.

ED staff
East Dover Elementary School staff was more than ready to kick off Toms River's NEA Big Read 2019.

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