DOUGLAS — COVID-19 failed to stop Douglas resident Jesus “Chuey” Duarte from making his annual Cat in the Hat visit to each of the elementary schools in the Douglas Unified School District.
Instead of visiting each school separately this year however, he spent the day Monday reading to eight different classes at some of the schools virtually and unlike in previous years, there was no Cat in the Hat parade this year.
March 2 would have been the 116th birthday of author Theodor Seuss “Ted” Geisel, author of the Dr. Seuss books. It was also National Read Across America Day.
Fifteen years ago Duarte, whose wife Joanie is a preschool teacher at Stevenson Elementary, began dressing up as the Cat in the Hat. He would then visit local schools and read from one of Dr. Seuss’ books. When Joanie taught at Faras he would stop there and visit the various classes before going on to the other schools.
He said this started after witnessing his father in law doing a similar type of thing in the Phoenix area.
“I am such a firm believer that reading is the great equalizer in school,” Duarte said. “When a child develops a love for reading, they are setting themselves up for success. For us, we would reward our kids with books. My favorite Dr. Seuss quote, ‘The more that you read, the more that you’ll know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go,’ is the main essence of it. That’s why I choose the book ‘I can read with my eyes shut’ as my main book to share with them.”
Duarte said the look on the kids faces and that interaction is priceless.
“I love bringing a character to life in this simple way,” he said. “Overall, just another way of giving back to my community.”
He admits not being able to visit the students’ classrooms this year because of COVID-19 was difficult but he and his wife came up with a plan to read to several different classes remotely.
This past Monday he read to eight different classes, ranging from preschool to fourth grade, at five elementary schools.
“COVID-19 threw us a curveball,” he said. “A year ago we were in person. This is a little different, I will admit. Our goal is to instill that love of reading to these kids. Dr. Seuss was one of my favorite authors growing up. I know many people still enjoy reading his books and being able to tie his birthday together with this is what we’re all about.”
He stated he is able to see the students on the computer screen and can see they are paying attention.
Joanie added she is hoping this will help her students learn to love school and reading.
“We want to get our students into the habit of where they love books and want to read more,” she said.
Some of the students made their Cat in the Hat hats and wore them to Stevenson Feb. 26 when Chuey and Joanie were distributing school materials to those who drove up.
“Learning online can be a little boring,” Joanie said. “Being able to do something different and make it a little fun is only going to encourage them to read more.”
“I’m glad I was able to reach out to so many kids even if it wasn’t the way I would normally do it,” Chuey added.
“We want to encourage the love of reading.”