MILL CREEK — The lobby at Mill Pointe Apartments isn’t tiny, but Tuesday night it was packed with about 40 high-energy kids, some in pajamas, chattering and flitting from room to room with bags of books and clothes.
“The kids arrived two hours early!” said Shelly Connery, a third-grade teacher from nearby Penny Creek Elementary School.
She was dressed in a Cat in the Hat costume. Like said feline, Connery was somewhat responsible for the chaos around her, since she helped organize the event that got the kids excited: a monthly reading night held at the apartment complex.
It’s a program launched at Penny Creek to reach out to Mill Pointe, a reduced-income community with about 80 kids attending Penny Creek.
“We wanted to bring the learning directly to them,” said Maggie Heater, the principal at Penny Creek.
As part of community outreach programs across the district, many schools, including Penny Creek, hold events such as literacy nights for kids and parents.
“What we were noticing is there was a cross-section of our student population whose parents were not attending events at the school,” Heater said.
“We decided to start establishing a relationship,” she said.
That led the school to set up a small lending library in the complex’s business center. PTA members also donate school supplies, which are kept in the apartment manager’s office and continuously restocked.
On Tuesday, donated clothes and dental supplies were also handed out to whoever wanted or needed them.
The reading program focused on Dr. Seuss, hence Connery’s costume. Seuss’ birthday is March 2, the date the National Education Association also marks Read Across America Day to promote child literacy.
Connery led a read-along of “The Cat in the Hat” in the complex’s small theater, prompting the kids to finish passages from the story.
“‘So all we could do was sit, sit, sit, sit!’” Connery read. “And we did not like it, not one little…”
The kids cried out: “Bit!”
About 18 of the kids sat in on the reading, but others were content to mill about, working on Seussian coloring or word search exercises, or reading their library books.
Sara Mayfield, 9, a 4th-grader at Penny Creek, was immersed in a “My Little Pony” book.
“‘My Little Pony’ is my favorite show!” she said. “I watch it all the time in my parents’ room.”
Asked why she wasn’t in the theater during the reading, Mayfield replied, “I do like ‘Cat in the Hat,’ but my favorite book of Dr. Seuss is ‘Green Eggs and Ham.’”
Elias Schilling, 8, a 2nd grader, showed off his haul, which included a book about drawing, “Bad Kitty Gets a Bath”, and two Dr. Seuss titles, “The Cat in the Hat,” and “The Foot Book.” He also pulled out Ed Young’s “Lon Po Po.”
“It’s like Red Riding Hood in Chinese,” Schilling said, adding that he read it once before in 1st grade.
The school held its first event at Mill Pointe in January, and going into it the school staff weren’t sure what kind of reaction they’d get.
About 40 kids came, Heater said, some with parents, many alone.
That was the case Tuesday as well, with only about half a dozen parents present among the throng of children.
Jessica Johnson, a kindergarten teacher who helped organize the event, said she specifically targets those families in Mill Pointe to encourage attendance.
“I write personal letters to each of the families,” Johnson said, adding that she also approaches the older kids in the school, because they often bring younger siblings and friends.
Regina Brown, 13, an 8th-grader at Eisenhower Middle School, said she came down because her friend was there.
“I also know a few of the teachers,” she said.
She grabbed a few books from the library. “A few of the untold stories of Lemony Snicket,” she said.