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Read Across Bridgeton: A Hometown Literacy Project

by Barbara Wilchensky, Guest Contributor

This year we decided to do things a bit differently for Read Across America… after all, hasn't the past 12 months been different anyway?! With the inability to do in-person activities, we took to the internet and the streets to cultivate a love of reading and an appreciation for our hometown's history. Situated in the southwest region of the State of New Jersey, within Cumberland County is Bridgeton. It is a city brimming with a rich history dating back to its first inhabitants, the Lenni Lenape. The first European settlers, the Swedes, arrived in the 1600s and started the onset of industry in the area fueled by the plentiful surrounding waterways. Bridgeton even made its mark during the Revolutionary War with one of its very own taverns being home to The Plain Dealer's publication. As a former Social Studies teacher in the district, I often found students knew little about the history or why there were so many Victorian houses lining their streets with placards at the door. Hence the inspiration for Read Across Bridgeton.

When presented with the idea, the Community Committee for our district’s Ready, Set, Read Initiative jumped into action. The committee's focus is to promote literacy awareness within the committee, so Read Across Bridgeton was perfect! The committee created a list of various locations within the community that held a historical significance and then began eliciting community members and school staff's assistance to conduct read-alouds. We had community member volunteers, including the Chief of Police, the County Commissioner, and our County Superintendent of Schools. Our school staff's excitement and the response was so overwhelming and included school and district administrators, teachers, and even our transportation department! Due to our large Spanish-speaking population, we were able to offer several readings in Spanish. We had a district tech on standby for anyone that needed assistance with recording, but many just sent in their cell phone video! A member of the team was responsible for editing the videos, adding the location, and creating subtitles. To manage the videos, we created a Read Across Bridgeton YouTube Channel where we had over 1,500 views within the first 18 days of the project. The videos and history were posted our website, as well as our Facebook page. It was indeed a collaborative effort that proved Bridgeton Public School District is #strongertogether. The committee members included Timothy Zoyac, Christina Mendolera, and Diana Cintron. Our tech support included James Boner and Alix Silva.

Personally, I have worked in Bridgeton for 20 years. I am genuinely proud of this project and the excitement for literacy, as well as the city’s history that it generated! I would love for you to visit the Bridgeton Public School’s Ready, Set, Read Webpage to learn more about the project.

Barbara Wilchensky is the Director of Curriculum for Language Arts Literacy in the Bridgeton Public School District.


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