The Lower School Reading Celebration is a highlight each year for students in grades 3-6, and this year’s edition on Friday, Sept. 23 was no exception—although it looked and felt a bit different in the virtual format.
Lower School Director Christy Diefenderfer says, “It was so fun working with the creative Lower School Reading Celebration planning team to reimagine this day. We knew our goals for the day would remain the same as always: to celebrate our summer reading book, encourage the love of reading, provide sixth-grade leadership opportunities, and foster relationships across grade levels.”
The day centered around this year’s summer reading book, Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, a novel about friendship and growth that follows the transformation of a cynical girl and her new squirrel pal. Earlier this year, Diefenderfer shared with parents that the book inspired the 2020-2021 Lower School theme, “Miracles can happen when we see each other”—a powerful reminder about connection, community, and belonging and the School's focus on continuing to nurture these in Hybrid Learning mode.
The virtual Reading Celebration fostered plenty of connection and community via a combination of read-alouds, Google Meet discussions, art projects, games, and more. At a virtual Gathering that morning, Diefenderfer read I Dissent, a story about the inspiring and impactful life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg by Debbie Levy. Afterwards, students were allowed to open special Flora and Ulysses-themed goodie bags that they’d received earlier (no peeking was allowed until the big day!). They then broke into smaller mixed-grade groups, where sixth graders led get-to-know-you games, discussions about the summer reading book, and additional read-alouds of books they themselves had selected. The day wrapped up with an art activity exploring and building on themes from Flora and Ulysses and the book’s fun comic-book-style graphics. Mirroring the metamorphosis of the characters, students were asked to think of ways they themselves have changed over quarantine and in the past year or so. They then drew a symbol of that change and incorporated this into a comic-inspired self-portrait.
When students were asked what they enjoyed about the day, Lola Hoffman ’27 said, “It was a very fun way to engage with kids in other grades than you!”
Diefenderfer was thrilled with how the day went and how—very much in keeping with the book’s refrain, “Holy unanticipated occurrences!”—it opened up many wonderful and unexpected new opportunities. “We were delighted that our reimagined day allowed us to read a wide array of books to the students over the course of the day. We also got to spend more time together in our mixed-grade-level groups, which allowed the students to really make connections through games, discussions, and art. Our sixth graders did such an amazing job leading their groups.”