In the Know: A love for literacy 

This month, February, is an opportunity for students, staff and schools to celebrate and inspire reading in students at all grade levels.

Last August, Maker Camp students Ben Ecker, Hattie Gates and Cece Anderson, who are all in fourth grade, put books in the Little Free Library they helped build.
Alexandria Echo Press file photo

By Rick Sansted, Superintendent, Alexandria Public Schools

I recall reading some classics during my elementary school experience at Washington Elementary in Fargo, ND. Some of the texts I remember – once I graduated to chapter books include Where the Red Fern Grows, The Phantom Tollbooth and Island of the Blue Dolphins. I also remember getting hooked on a “Choose Your Own Adventure” series. The plot in the book would come to a decision point and the reader would make a choice and the book would send you to different endings based on what you wanted a character to do. That was 1980s literacy innovation!

February is “I Love to Read” month in schools all over the country. This month is an opportunity for students, staff and schools to celebrate and inspire reading in students at all grade levels. I had the opportunity to visit Carlos Elementary last week and the students and staff were celebrating with a themed hat day on the day of my visit. I didn’t happen to have a hat on inside the building that day. I was listening to Mrs. Weisel’s class provide some character and plot summaries to their peers. Mrs. Weisel teaches first grade. Yes — these 6 and 7 year olds were sharing what they had read in their book. I listened to one boy conclude his summary and I mentioned that I didn’t have a hat today. He chimed in to make sure I understood why they were wearing hats. “It’s not about the hats, it is about the reading,” said the wise first grader.

On the staff side, we have been invested in training our teachers in the science of reading. This has been happening in our school district since 2017. You may have heard about the science of reading as it came up last year in the Minnesota Legislature. It is back on the legislative agenda this year as well. The legislation would provide funds to ensure teacher training in the science of reading. I had the opportunity to testify for the education policy committee last week in support of this legislation.

We started our training with our special education and reading interventionists and have continued to expand the training to our elementary classroom teachers. This training will continue in our school district. As the world continues to know more about how the brain processes and learns, it is important to adjust our practices to what we are learning from this research. In 2018, we responded to our student data by investing in phonics resources and training for our teachers. As adults, it is important that we continue to apply our new learning about how the brain functions. Our committee of our teachers in partnership with our Curriculum Advisory Council have been researching a variety of new K-5 literacy materials in order to make sure not only our training, but also our curriculum resources are integrating practices that are aligned with the science of reading.


With I Love to Read month, our schools, staff and students all have a chance to celebrate reading in fun and creative ways. In addition to hat day, other fun events include:

  • A school wide book swap, where kids can get books that are “new” to them.
  • Different themed dress up days are incorporated throughout the month.
  • Family Book Bingo — an evening of fun for families and books as prizes.
  • Mystery Readers in classrooms — guests are invited in as surprise readers.                

Other fun ways to promote literacy in our schools and in our community:

  • This past summer our Maker Camp helped build Free Little Libraries and then partnered with the City of Alexandria and Douglas County to place the libraries in parks in the city and county.  Our middle school students donated books to fill the libraries.
  • The Douglas County Library continues to be a great place to satisfy that craving for reading and books.  A variety of activities help engage our youngest learners to our teen readers.  
  • In the summer, United Way of Douglas and Pope County send out the traveling treehouse to support summer learning — including literacy. 

Parents and grandparents can support children in their reading. Ideas include:

  • Reading to kids.
  • Reading with kids (I remember we would alternate pages — I would read one and the child would read one).
  • Join or create a book club with friends — modeling the joy of reading is great for kids to see.
  • Visit the library together. 
  • Invite your child to be curious about something they are interested or passionate about.  I recently spoke with a student who was going to attend his first college wrestling match. He was excited and I’m sure saw a great event at the University of Minnesota. Go find books or magazines about wrestling.  Tap into your child's interest area to help them know more about something they love.  

To conclude, a doctor once said, “The more that you read, the more you will know. The more you learn, oh the places you’ll go.” Now this doctor was not a medical professional but was the famous Dr. Seuss. That is a prescription that should be filled for all of us.
Rick Sansted is the superintendent of Alexandria Public Schools. "In the Know" is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.

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