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Kids, PJs, Books: Ward School's Read-A-Thon Draws Authors, Raises Funds

Author Christina Geist will be a guest at the William B. Ward Elementary School Read-a-Thon pajama party Tuesday. She is shown with her husband, Willie, co-anchor of MSNBC's “Morning Joe.” Geist wrote "Buddy's Bedtime Battery."
Author Christina Geist will be a guest at the William B. Ward Elementary School Read-a-Thon pajama party Tuesday. She is shown with her husband, Willie, co-anchor of MSNBC's “Morning Joe.” Geist wrote "Buddy's Bedtime Battery." Photo Credit: New Rochelle Schools

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – Normally, parents and educators might despair of ever being able to tear kids away from their electronic “devices” long enough to read a real book, but that’s not a problem at the William B. Ward Elementary School in New Rochelle.

All month long, the students there have been eagerly participating in a read-a-thon, the school’s annual fundraiser, says its organizer, parent Melissa Panszi-Riebe.

The goal – besides raising money for the school – is to have the children read independently, or to others, a total of 2 million minutes.

Dozens of authors and other members of the community – ranging from Mayor Noam Bramson, beauty queen Lauren Morella and well-known artist Charles Fazzino to a local toy shop owner, police officer and firefighter – have come to share their love of reading with students, Panszi-Riebe said.

Tonight (Tuesday, Oct. 25), Christina Geist will read her new picture book, “Buddy’s Bedtime Battery,” at a pajama party for the kids.

The free event, for Ward families, is set for 7 p.m. in the school’s multi-purpose room. There will be door prizes.

The author’s husband, Willie Geist, is co-anchor of MSNBC's “Morning Joe” and also anchors “Sunday Today with Willie Geist.”

Scheduled to appear during the read-a-thon’s last week are, Panszi-Riebe said: Artie Bennett, author of “Poopendous;” William Meyer, who wrote “The Secret of the Scarab Beetle" and Robin Barone, author of “Where’s Robin?”

Children participating in the event are sponsored by their families, friends and others. The money they raise is divvied up into grants that teachers can use to, for instance, enhance their classroom libraries, buy technology or purchase things needed for experiments.

Last year, one teacher bought an incubator with the money and hatched some chickens so her kids could learn about life cycles. The chickens were later donated to a farm, Panszi-Riebe said.

“This model (the read-a-thon) has proved far more effective at raising money than just selling things,” she added.

Last year, the read-a-thon raked in $53,000.

The school plans to have a party in December to celebrate the kids’ efforts.

The top fundraiser and top reader in each class will be chosen to participate in a team, Panszi-Riebe said.

In the spring, three teams (K-first grade, second through third grade and third through fourth grade) will go up against teams of teachers on an obstacle course.

They will compete in things like running while balancing eggs on spoons, and through hula-hoops, Panszi-Riebe said.

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