OGDEN — Attentive eyes of students at Heritage Elementary School were glued to the front of their classrooms as members of the community read aloud from books for Read Across America Day.
Volunteers didn’t sit on a stool in the front of the classroom this year, flipping the pages of picture books for children to gaze at. Instead, most classrooms interacted with public figures over Zoom calls or watched prerecorded videos due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The shift in observance of the annual celebration meant to boost interest in reading allowed for Rep. Blake Moore, who represents the area covered by Utah’s 1st Congressional District, to chat with Elizabeth Young’s fifth grade class from his office in Washington, D.C. At his desk, he read “I Am George Washington,” by Brad Meltzer.
The book opened, “You know what one of the hardest things in life is? Being the first.”
“One of the neatest things he did was that when everybody expected him to become a king and a ruler over this new formed government, he stepped down because it was the best thing for the United States, and everybody needs to remember that that’s what George Washington did,” Moore said of the first president. “He was always putting the country over himself and his own ambition.”
The students have been learning about U.S. history and government this year as part of Utah’s social studies curriculum for fifth graders, so George Washington’s story was familiar.
Prior to the election in November, the class watched news reports from multiple outlets to gain a variety of perspectives on the candidates. After President Joe Biden was elected, they wrote their own inauguration speeches. And before Moore spoke to the class, they did research about his job as they prepared to grill him with questions.
“Why did you choose Congress?” one said. Another, “How do you solve problems with other Congressmen?” And, “Have you met President Biden?”
“You’re asking the right, smart questions,” Moore told the students, adding, “(Politicians) are making decisions that are about you and your future, so please don’t ever forget that, make sure to stay involved and keep asking these really smart questions.”
He also encouraged them to continue listening to a wide variety of opinions, unless they are “destructive.” Then, they should think for themselves and decide what’s right.
“The fact that you’re learning that now, you are so much further than anything I was doing when I was a fifth grader,” Moore said. “I’m serious about that and I’m so impressed.”
When Moore was attending Wasatch Elementary School in Ogden, he said, he gave a report on Box Elder County. As part of the report, he learned about fruit stands in the county and the work done there to advance the country’s space program. The things he learned now help him serve those industries’ interests in Congress, he said.
“So just remember that the things you’re doing now are really, really important and your teacher is guiding you in the right direction,” he told the fifth graders.
That’s why it’s important for elementary school students to focus and read as much as they can, Moore continued. It will help students do better in everything from social studies to math.
“All of your subjects, it all comes back to reading,” Moore said. “The more you practice reading, the more you get better at reading, the better you will be at every single subject, whether it’s engineering one day, whether you want to be a pilot, whatever you want to do in life, it’s important to always read.”
As Moore prepared to sign off, Young asked her students if talking to him was “awesome.” In a chorus, they shouted, “Yes!”
“We’ll be watching you, see how you do the next couple of years and see the great changes you’re going to make,” Young told the freshman Congressman.
“Yeah, and you hold me accountable too,” Moore said to his audience. “That’s what you need to do with politicians.”
Principal Jim Mieure said having successful adults like Moore read to young students leaves a significant impression on the children. It shows them the importance of reading and how it will eventually help them reach their goals.
Other community members who read to Heritage Elementary students included Ogden School District administrators, members of Ogden Police Department, United Way of Northern Utah CEO Tim Jackson, and Luis Lopez, Ogden City councilman and the director of Weber State University’s Community Education Center.
“We knew most of them would have to be virtual — not as nice as in person, but we’re so grateful for those who volunteered to do it,” Mieure said. “I felt like it worked out well.”