A St. Landry Parish school is working to build literacy and a love of reading among its youngest students. That school is getting buy-in for that mission from its teachers, its student's parents, and the community.

Park Vista Elementary hosted Read Across America last week. Traditionally, it's an event that the St. Landry Parish School Board hosted at its central office each March. This year, the challenge fell to individual schools. Park Vista's pre-kindergarten teachers picked up the slack and made it an event their students would never forget.

A joyful noise filled the school's library throughout the event.

"School has become such a hard thing for the kids," said Breanna Prudhomme, a pre-kindergarten teacher at the school. "They don't appreciate it any more. It's not fun and interesting. That why we as pre-k teachers keep that energy up because they have fun and they grow up having a fun learning experience."

Prudhomme says putting on an event like Read Across America is a true team effort.

"We're such a team of pre-k teachers over here that we all have our hands on the plow. Even our parents have their hands on the plow. They're always helping us."

Cassi Gauthier is one of those parents. She baked cupcakes and other treats for the students and the readers to enjoy.

"The teachers already go through so much, and they sometimes need a little help, and the little I can do can help," Gauthier said.

She added by helping her child's teachers, she's helping advance her child's education.

"The kids are learning a lot more than children at other schools that I know of," Gauthier said. "They are learning more than other kids are learning at their age."

Robert Marks taught fifth- and sixth-grade social studies and math at Park Vista for nearly three decades. He's been retired for more than a decade, but he still comes back to read to the students every year. This year's event allowed him to read to his granddaughter, Olivia, who now attends Park Vista.

"It's a wonderful experience," Marks said. "I've been doing this for probably all the years I've been retired, and I look forward to it every year."

Retired St. Landry Parish judge Ellis Daigle also looks forward to Read Across America every year. In fact, he gets so into the event that he dresses up for the occasion, wearing a Dr. Seuss hat while reading to the students.

"They're very, very eager," Daigle said of the students. "They're eager to learn. They want to learn. They want to know something new. It's just something else to be able to be here to teach them."

So, what's it like to wear the hat?

"I've worn worse," Daigle said with a laugh. "The hat didn't bother me at all, and it's a fun thing. The kids enjoyed it."

The teachers worked their magic to keep the youngsters focused. When they saw their students were getting distracted, they played music and held a five-minute dance party. After that, the students were focused and paying attention again. Prudhomme says the teachers use that method to refocus their students during regular classes.

Marks said he admired the teachers for their ability to control classrooms full of four- and five-year-olds.

"It's like being in a room full of kittens," Marks said laughingly. "It's like herding cats."

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