Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Family Tradition

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Family Tradition

Article excerpt

Englewood school fosters community spirit

The cars spilled from the parking lots at Englewood Elementary School. Parents who did not drive arrived on foot with their children.

It was a typical Thursday evening at the school. About 250 parents and children showed up to read in the library, run around a marked course, compete in a miniature soapbox derby called the EES 500, and perhaps eat hotdogs and hamburgers cooked by fifth-graders at 5's Fast Food (proceeds going toward a field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry).

One might ask, what is so unusual about that? Lots of schools have family nights or literacy nights.

The amazing part is that Englewood Elementary has done this every Thursday evening, from August into May, for 14 years.

That is every week of the school year for 14 years. And the program shows no sign of slowing down.

Physical education teacher Ginny White says at least 100 runners have shown up weekly this year. "It's just exploded," she says. White keeps tabs on the distance each runner covers for what she calls the Mileage Club.

Cumulatively, they have logged 34,000 miles, well over the circumference of the planet.

The physical fitness portion of the evening is in its fourth year. Before that, librarian Donna Catanzarite ran the whole show.

It germinated in November 1998 as a means to combat particularly poor parent participation. Catanzarite sent home fliers and opened the library. "About 25 people showed up, and we were pleased," she says.

She incorporated the testing and goals of the national accelerated reading program to try to "build a lifelong love of reading."

At a time when computers were becoming essential at work and home, the program also developed an unexpected clientele: working parents. On Thursday evenings, while their children read, "the parents were looking to upgrade their job skills in the computer lab, learning how to get on the Internet and how to do word processing," Catanzarite says.

Whenever attendance started to lag, she would concoct little gimmicks: a tailgate party with chicken wings served from the back of a pickup pulled next to the library or the awarding of merit points for children who wore Bucs jerseys or hats depicting their favorite sports teams. …

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