Whitehall News

Literacy Night brings Beechwood 'family' closer

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Beechwood Elementary School second-grader Julia Downing (left), her sister, fourth-grader Emily Downing (center), and second-grader Ellie Rehl cut out leaves and branches for a family tree. The project was part of the school's annual Literacy Night, held March 20, which celebrated reading, family and community.

As grandmothers helped small hands cut out leaves for family trees, mothers and fathers helped glue them to paper branches, often adding a story or tale that gave meaning to the project.

Brothers, sisters and friends hovered nearby, enjoying a good book, music and some family time.

The scene at Beechwood Elementary School's annual Literacy Night was a melting pot of family, friends and community. Michelle Zugaro, the first-grade teacher at Beechwood who spearheaded the event, said that's what the event is all about.

"Everyone at Beechwood is like a family," Zugaro said. "The Whitehall community as a whole is one big family, and we are all a part of that."

More than 250 students brought family and friends to the annual event held March 20 at the school, sharing both books and camaraderie.

The evening started out with a video highlighting the diversity at the school, followed by a musical number featuring Beechwood's kindergartners and first-graders. Students and their families then listened to one of two books, the first read in Spanish by Beechwood students, the other in English read by teachers.

In order to exemplify their diversity, students each made a hand to represent their own personality. The creations were hung in the school's cafeteria encircling a world map depicting all the areas from which each of the school's families originated.

Students at Beechwood come from 20 different countries on five different continents around the world, said Zugaro.

Later, students visited classrooms, where they read books and made family trees to take home.

"It's like we came full circle in one evening," Zugaro said.

A highlight of the evening was the book fair in the school's media center, where children perused picture books about llamas and paged through how-to books giving insight into their favorite video games.

"The families were engaged and enjoying themselves," Zugaro said. "One thing I heard (from teachers) was that the family-tree station sparked conversation about the lineage of many families, and suddenly family stories were being shared right in the middle of a table in a classroom.

"Overall, it was a wonderful night celebrating the places we are from, the friends we have and the family we have and have become."