This week brought two noteworthy birthdays at 180fusion, where I work. For the company’s 5th birthday we had ice cream and cake. For Dr. Seuss’s 111th birthday — Monday — we took it on the road. About 20 of us went to Woodrow Wilson Elementary in South Salt Lake City and spent part of the afternoon going from classroom to classroom, reading Dr. Seuss books to the students there.
Before we were finished, we had visited more than 20 classrooms, from kindergarten to sixth grade, for half an hour each. I myself read to kindergarten students, first graders, and third graders, in groups ranging in size from 4 to 13 students.
The students at Woodrow Wilson presently come from 26 countries and speak 28 native languages. Most are refugees or recent immigrants from such places as Nepal and Somalia. A school official told us that some students who were in school this week were in a refugee camp in Africa just a week or two earlier.
The United Way collaborates with Woodrow Wilson and other similar schools in the Salt Lake Valley, providing such things as immunizations and dental care — for entire families, not just the students. There are busy programs before and after school. Reading is emphasized, because learning English is critical to the students’ success in their new country.
And they have to work fast. Some of the students will be at Woodrow Wilson for just a few months before moving to other schools.
We all chose which book or books we wanted to read. I chose The Foot Book (from the American Fork Library) and Dr. Seuss’s ABC (from home).
I read through The Foot Book slowly with the kindergarten class. We practiced up feet, down feet, slow feet, quick feet, etc. Then we read the book again, but more quickly, doing what we had practiced. In a few cases, we imagined things, instead of acting them out. For example, when we came to “over a chair feet,” we didn’t leap over chairs. We imagined the teacher, Mrs. Z., leaping over a chair.
All of this tired them out a little, so they could mostly sit still for my colleague’s reading of a highly subversive classic, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back — one of those “please don’t try this at home” affairs, as you may recall, like Home Alone and Mythbusters.
With the first- and third-graders, I relied mostly on Dr. Seuss’s ABC. We did each letter a bit differently.
In some cases, I would read the pages for that letter first, then they would practice saying the fun part. Then we would have a race: who could say “barber baby bubbles and a bumblebee” fastest?
Sometimes they would do all the reading. Given their backgrounds — especially their linguistic backgrounds — I was surprised at their reading skills and their confidence.
When we came to “Kick a kettle. Kite and a king’s kerchoo,” we all yelled “kerchoo!” to see if anyone in the other reading groups in the classroom would respond with “bless you” or “gesundheit.” (We did that in three classrooms, and no one ever did. They must have been concentrating on their own books.)
When the letter C came with a picture of a camel, I asked in succession, have any of you ever seen a camel? Or ridden one? Or eaten camel? As to the last question, a couple of them had — or so they said, at least. They said the same of the yak we encountered later in the alphabet. Since some of them came from countries where yaks and camels are commonplace, I believe them. Some of them had a hard time believing that I once served my family — here in Utah — roast sirloin of Himalayan yak. But I did.
When the letter R offered a red rhinoceros, we listed possible causes for the rhino’s hue. Yes, we thought of sunburn and severe embarrassment.
They all laughed to see Willy Waterloo washing Walter Wiggins, who is washing Waldo Woo. You don’t see good bathtub humor every day, but when you do, it works.
And for the record, none of us had ever seen, ridden on, or eaten a Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz. Not that this surprises you. But the creature did serve to conclude the alphabet for us, if rather weirdly.
It was a fine afternoon. We adults had a great time with the kids, and they seemed to have enjoyed it too. At 180fusion we try to do something different in the community every month or two, but I think there will be some votes to repeat this one — perhaps even regularly. Mine will be among them.