North Richmond’s Verde Elementary celebrates literacy, honors revival

by Mike Aldax posted on The Richmond Standard

Students at Verde Elementary School honored Dr. Suess’ 111th birthday this week with costumes, an awards ceremony and a feast of green eggs and ham – all while celebrating a budding love of reading.

The celebration was part of the National Education Association’s Read Across America event organized in schools nationwide, where students had a chance to dress up as Dr. Suess characters and recognize the importance of literacy, a key indicator for student success.

“We want kids to love reading and feel good about their abilities too,” said Verde Principal Eric Acosta-Verprauskus.

But the event took on a special significance at Verde, where teachers and parents at the North Richmond K-6 elementary school also recognized the celebration as a telling sign of the school’s revival.

A decade ago, Verde faced low test scores and chronic absenteeism – factors that led it to be ranked as one of California’s most troubled.

In recent years, a swell of community support led to the formation in 2013 of a coalition of community partners, who started meeting monthly to plan broader community revitalization efforts that could better help serve Verde students and families. The North Richmond Network (NRN) was officially founded as a collaboration among school administrators, local nonprofits, parents and government agencies.

With a vision to equip North Richmond residents with tools to promote improved health, educational excellence and community safety, the group organized numerous events to rally support. One committed neighbor, Cristal Banagan, organized literacy workshops for nearby residents and NRN members even had a voice in hiring Acosta-Verprauskus, the school’s new principal.

First-grade teacher Elona Dixon has taught at Verde for eight years and said changes are palpable.

“You can feel the excitement,” Dixon said. “And you can see the increase in parent and community involvement. Verde is on the upswing and it’s really motivating.”

At the Read Across America event this week, students filed into the cafeteria to receive certificates for reading achievement. Meanwhile, dozens of parents whisked green eggs in the kitchen for the mid-morning feast. Richmond Mayor Tom Butt’s staff was also on hand to present special certificates to each classroom’s top reader.

Acosta-Verprauskus said he’s focused on incorporating data-driven instruction and improving student culture – with so many students still unable to read at grade level, boosting literacy levels is a priority.

“A lot of changes are happening, and there’s so much synergy with all of the community support,” Acosta-Verprauskus said. “We’re reaching a tipping point. Things are starting to roll our way.”


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