Hit the Books!

Connie’s ‘very favorite book’ for children is Doreen Cronin’s Click, Clack, Moo, with charming illustrations by Betsy Lewin. They can be seen in an exhibit of children’s book art at the Kemerer Museum of Decoratve Arts, 427 N. New St., Bethlehem, through January 4.

The last week in October, when the rest of the nation was buying Halloween candy in bulk, Connie Unger was handing out a different kind of treat—and no tricks.

Connie, assistant professor of education and a specialist in children’s literature, was in Hershey at the helm of the Keystone State Reading Association’s annual meeting.

It was in Hershey because the convention center is large enough to hold 2,500 people, which was the attendance at the 2003 conference.

Not all were K-12 teachers—there were school superintendents and college professors—and not everyone was from Pennsylvania. The size and scope of the meeting brought educators from across the country, including “big contingents from California and Texas.”

Keystone is the state chapter of the International Reading Association, which has 80,000 members worldwide. “I don’t think there’s another organization in the educational world that’s as large as this one [IRA] is,” Connie says.

She brought 45 Moravian education students to serve as assistants, registrars, and session chairs, which enabled them to attend at no charge. It was the midpoint of their student-teaching semester, when they had the week off anyway, and she was able to obtain a SOAR grant for their poster presentations of a reading strategies project from their pre-student teaching seminar. This helped underwrite the cost of their lodging.

“It was thrilling for our students to see so many people and have so many topics from which to choose,” says Connie.

The conference featured some 30 author-illustrators of well-known children’s books, including a regional contingent that included Kay Winters, Doylestown; Sally Keehn, Allentown; David Lubar, Nazareth; and Pat Brisson, Phillipsburg, N.J. Nationally known writers included Steven Kroll, Linda Oatman High, and Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah, Plain and Tall).

Conference topics—and here Connie gives a great deal of credit to Lynn Malok, an adjunct instructor in education at Moravian, for her help in organizing this mammoth event—ranged from reading tests to classroom book groups, spelling to phonics, children’s non-fiction, writing, readers’ theater, alphabets, teaching strategies, and an update on the No Child Left Behind act.

With student literacy a hot topic in political circles, local, state, and national, there are all kinds of government programs, assessments, and paperwork that teachers must know. Connie says with a sigh: “At least there’s plenty of money, federal money, available for reading programs.”

Even Pennsylvania’s secretary of education, Vicki Phillips, presented a session on “The New Plan for Public Education”—the first time any secretary of education has attended a KSRA conference.

Connie joined the faculty at Moravian in 1993 after 27 years in the Northampton School District, where she started as a kindergarten teacher. Then “they pulled me out” to become director of staff development for all grades in the district.

For her, teaching at the college level has the same philosophy as teaching in elementary school. “We have to construct meaning through ourselves,” she says. “If my kids aren’t talking, they’re not learning. A classroom where only the teacher’s voice is heard is a classroom where only the teacher is learning.”

The conference coordinator job goes to the president-elect of the association, so Connie will become president of KSRA in June, at the start of the 2004-2005 academic year.

“It is so much fun, playing with literature, and that’s what I want to pass on to my students,” she says. “If they love lit, their kids will love lit.”

And speaking of children’s books: Moravian celebrated National Children’s Book Week by collecting nearly 450 books and $138 to purchase more books.

Phyllis Walsh, coordinator of community service, thanks Delta Tau Delta fraternity and Betsy Foley ’04, Rockland, Massachusetts, from C3, who helped sort, pack, and deliver the books to the Salvation Army, Turning Point, and the South Bethlehem Neighborhood Center.

November 11, 2003

My Friend Flicka:
Opera singer Frederica von Stade replaces opera singer Dawn Upshaw for the Great Artist series. (Upshaw has a throat infection.)

Hit the Books!:
Connie Unger steers the Keystone State Reading Association annual meeting.
Stars in Their Eyes:
Three local children sing "Morning Star" at Vespers.
Trash Talk:
More recycling efforts on campus.
Signature Event:
Moravian Theological Seminary and Marywood University to hold signing ceremony for new joint degree programs.
Campus calendar.
See the World:
Events of International Education Week on campus.
Faculty/staff/student accomplishments.
Top Brass:
Moravian band performs at area band festival.