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Sea of Smiles at McGee Elementary School's Beach-Themed "Read-In"

Students in kindergarten through fifth grade had fun in the faux beach created in the school’s gymnasium to cap off their week dedicated to reading.

Students in kindergarten through fifth grade at capped off a week dedicated to reading by hitting the beach for a little educational R&R.

The faux beach created last week in the school’s gymnasium lent a "sensational backdrop" as all grade levels were extended the opportunity to enjoy 45 minutes in the tropical atmosphere.

"As a school we are always looking for avenues to promote positive behavior, "says Gail Shaw, physical education instructor and event co-chair. "This is actually our second year. It went over so well with the kids and parents that we’ve decided to make the beach read-in an annual event."

Upon entry teachers led the class to the lounging areas staged under inflatable palm tree’s connected to tiny pool. There the students, many sporting Hawaiian attire, pitched their beach towels, perched their sunglasses on their head and dived in the special book or books they had chosen.

Students were surrounded by visual cues encouraging reading, for instance the walls of the gymnasium were decorated to appear submerged underwater. The ocean like decorations featured whales, turtles and shells representing students in various classrooms and their picks for favorite titles.

Principal Anthony Valenza made the rounds stopping periodically to speak with both students and adults in attendance.

"It’s great to see the students enjoying themselves so much," he said. "The way this event came together highlights so many levels of community coming together. I couldn’t think of a better way to end our spirit week."

He lauded the enthusiasm by everyone involved with the event.

"We have a local dad that works at a party company that helped with supplies and materials," he said. "Cheryl, who runs the Shamrock After-School Club, had students decorate windows. Ms. Ancel, our librarian, coordinated a book fair, the PTO helped with funds and the (Bolingbrook) sent the climbing wall."

Parental support was also evident. Moms and dads alike took time off work or household chores to join their children during the 45 minute reading session.

"My daughter Emma didn’t know I was coming," said Joanna Morales. "It was just the greatest surprise, I’m happy I can be here to share this with her."

Third-grader Nataly squealed in delight as she sat on her father Oscar Carmona’s lap as her mother Karina read an age-appropriate comic book called Nate Outloud to her.

"This is just the best," she said. "I’m having so much fun!"

Retired McGee Principal Michael Zoleki, who ended his tenure the spring of 2011,also made time to visit and help with the students.

"Soon all the kids who have known me will have graduated. You do this for so many years and you still have that connection," he said. "I enjoy seeing this level of dedication. Parents who send their children here can be confident everyone in the building is working to make sure their child gets the best education possible."

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