Staff and Student Spotlights

  • Regis Solomon voted as January's Staff Member of the Month

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 2/19/2024

    Staff member of the month: Regis Solomon

    Regis Solomon approaches every day with a steadfast persistence. In Solomon’s work as the district’s maintenance technician, Solomon looks at every maintenance issue as a puzzle that he will exhaust every route to fix himself.

    And in those moments in between, Solomon always seems to have a smile on his face. Solomon was voted by his peers as January’s staff member of the month for his invaluable efforts in the district.

    “He has an infectious positive personality,” said one staff member.  

    “He has saved the district a ton of money since he came on board by being able to use his knowledge to fix and repair things around the district,” said another staff member.

    Solomon grew up learning how to fix things, having been surrounded by various family members within the maintenance field. He went on to study heating and air conditioning, with the intention of starting his own business after graduation. A job opportunity as the facilities manager at the McKeesport Daily News, though, was offered to him, and he jumped at it.

    Solomon spent 25 years there before seeking other job opportunities. His current position at the Duquesne City School District came open, and he went for it. The fit was logical. Solomon is a 1982 graduate of the school, and this was a great opportunity for him to give back to a community and school he knew quite well.

    “It’s pretty cool,” Solomon said about returning to the school he once graduated from. “I just like helping people out and fixing whatever needs to be fixed and making sure everybody’s doing well.”

    Every day looks a bit different for Solomon, as he chips in to help wherever he can. What remains consistent from day to day is Solomon’s positive attitude and doggedness to find a solution to any problem presented to him.

    In these moments, Solomon leans on his years of experience and knowledge, thinking back to things he learned from schooling, on the job or from his family. Almost always, he’s able to find a solution or a fix himself.

    “If it’s something I can fix, I wouldn’t want the school to have to pay someone else to do it,” Solomon said. “I love trying to fix things. I’ll try to fix things in the best way I can, and if it’s beyond me, I’ll ask for help. Most of the time, though, I get it.”

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  • Photo Gallery: The Neighborhood Learning Alliance tours Duquesne City

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 2/16/2024

    Thank you to the Neighborhood Learning Alliance, who came to tour the Duquesne City School District today. Over the course of the tour, visitors were able to learn about and observe World of Work in seven different classrooms (K-4). 

    The Neighborhood Learning Alliance is a nonprofit organization that "strives to improve education and opportunities of lower-income families within Allegheny County through strategic partnerships with the community and faith-based organizations."

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  • Black History Month Celebration happening on February 27

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 2/14/2024

    Mark your calenders and join us, if you can, for a wonderful Black History Month Celebration on February 27, from 6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m., at the Duquesne City School District (300 Kennedy Ave, Duquesne, PA 15110).

    This promises to be an uplifting and empowering celebration featuring music, art, poetry and a presentation by Pittsburgh’s very own Double Dutch Swing Squad!  

    Right before the celebration, we will also be holding a Resource Fair from 5 p.m. - 6:15 p.m. This is a great opportunity to connect with some of the district's community partners. Some community partners present at the fair include Mon Valley Cure, the Boys and Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania, Auberle and Pittsburgh Area Community Schools.

    If you have any questions about the resource fair or Black History Month celebration, feel free to contact Molly Means at meansm@dukesk12.org.

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  • Duquesne City students receive their prizes for the Pittsburgh Penguins Reading Champions Challenge

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 2/13/2024

    Duquesne City students were visited today by the Pittsburgh Penguins’ mascot, Iceberg, and awarded their prizes for their participation in the Reading Champions Challenge, a reading initiative organized by U.S. Steel and the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation.

    Since last December, five Duquesne City classes have participated in the challenge. Those classes include Mrs. Foster’s, Ms. Korenoski’s, Mrs. Solomon's, Ms. Abt’s and Ms. Scherrer’s. 

    Launched in 2021, the Reading Champions program encourages 3rd grade students to grow their love for reading through an eight-week program. The goal of the challenge is to have each student read for 20 minutes a day, the same amount of time in a hockey period. Each class is provided with a set of ten books focused on teamwork, kindness/anti-bullying, hockey and penguins.

    At the end of the challenge, students have the opportunity to win prizes based on how much they read. Ms. Korenoski’s, Mrs. Foster’s, Mrs. Solomon’s and Ms. Scherrer’s class achieved the MVP level. Ms. Apt’s class received the First Line level. Students received gifts such as a hat, books and two tickets to a Pittsburgh Penguins game.

    Congratulations to all participating students for their hard work!

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  • Staff Spotlight: Shannon Keating makes a big difference as the District's Behavior Support and Intervention Specialist

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 1/25/2024

    A woman sit and smiles at her desk

    When Shannon Keating was a student, school was her safe space. Ms. Keating remembers a number of adults who helped uplift her, and propel her forward, even in some rough times. 

    In her role as the Duquesne City School District’s Behavior Support and Intervention Specialist, Ms. Keating hopes to be the same positive influence that those adults were on her in the past. She looks to be someone students can trust, someone they can always talk to, no matter the situation.

    “As a kid, I would go to school and I would feel safe, wanted and cherished,” Ms. Keating said. “At school, I felt like there were adults that believed in me. I would go to school and feel like I’m capable of doing well.”

    Before starting in the district this school year, Ms. Keating was a social worker in the Penn Hills School District for six years. Ms. Keating got her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from the California University of Pennsylvania and her Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh. From the beginning, her post-secondary education journey was always obvious, always what she wanted to do.

    “I feel really lucky in a way because I never questioned what I wanted to do,” Ms. Keating said. “By the time that I was old enough to make decisions about going to college, it was really easy for me to know that I wanted to work with kids.”

    Ms. Keating first started hearing positive things about the Duquesne City School District from a coworker of her’s at Penn Hills, who worked in Duquesne City previously, and praised the district’s relationship with the community. 

    Later on, Ms. Keating ran into Rachel Butler-Pardi — the district’s Mental Health and Behavior Support Coordinator/Attendance Officer — at an information session for the University of Pittsburgh’s Education Doctorate program, and that solidified a gut feeling.

    “She was telling me how amazing it is, and the focus on mental health and all of the resources and time that the district is putting in to prioritize mental health,” Ms. Keating said. 

    “It felt so strange and serendipitous to run into her. I don’t get gut feelings often. So I emailed her the next day to let me know if a position ever opens up.”

    Thus far, all the positive things that Ms. Keating previously heard about the district has been validated.

    “There’s a really good crew here. Almost immediately, I felt like people were concerned with including me here, which is really nice,” Ms. Keating said. “I feel like our mental health team works really well together. People listen to me. People want to know what I have to say. I feel comfortable sharing how I feel. It’s been really great.”

    On a day-to-day basis, Ms. Keating’s responsibilities can look a little different. Some of the main tenets of her position include responding to crises, working with teachers who have students with mental health or behavioral concerns, fortifying the district’s PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports Images) system, and conducting groups of students that focus on social skills and friendship.

    Of the latter responsibility, Ms. Keating works with teachers to pick out students who might need help with their social skills. Those students then work together — playing games, telling stories and making art. It’s a safe, relaxed environment that encourages socializing.

    “The students don't normally see what we are doing as "work," but while engaged in the group they are receiving frequent feedback from me about things like sharing, taking turns and using kind words,” Ms. Keating said. “It's a structured way to learn while playing that I think can be pretty impactful, especially in age groups that begin to struggle with conflict.”

    In all of Ms. Keating’s work, she continually focuses on building trust, and being a consistently positive presence. These qualities are key for Ms. Keating, especially when dealing with crises, or a student who might regularly have trouble regulating their behaviors and emotions.

    “I feel lucky because I can just take kids for who they are and I’m not trying to change them or judge them. I can meet them where they are, and just get on their level,” Ms. Keating said. 

    “A big thing with kids is they’ll test you to see how you’ll respond when they mess up. And for me, it comes easily that a kid could make a poor choice but the following day it’s a new day. I might be really upset at the moment, but the following day I’m there, happy to see them. I genuinely feel that.”

    Ms. Keating describes her position as being very malleable, which allows her to shift and change her days, and deal with issues in her realm as she sees fit. Among one her burgeoning responsibilities, Ms. Kesting is helping pilot an alternative to suspension program that begins at the end of January. 

    “Something I’m thinking about is having a more restorative approach to our discipline. So with Dr. (Jennifer) Jennings and Ms. Butler-Pardi and a few others, we’ve been planning this alternative to suspension, where kids will get assigned there as a consequence, but a huge part of their day will be counseling and social groups and processing what they did. And then they’re going to set goals and become part of a check-in system,” Ms. Keating said.

    Additionally, Ms. Keating said she’s been thinking a lot about staff wellness recently, and how she can help support the district’s staff. Recently, during some remote learning days, Ms. Keating set up a Google Meet where staff members could pop in to talk to one another about how they’re doing at work and in life.

    Those efforts are a great encapsulation of Ms. Keating’s approach to her job. From students to teachers and everyone in between, Ms. Keating is always just looking to help out, approaching everyone with a kind, open-minded disposition.

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  • Mrs. Gensler finds her "happy place" as the district's Reading Specialist

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 1/22/2024

    As a former 1st grade teacher for six years, Taylor Gensler used to always say that 1st grade was her happy place. Now in her first year as the district’s Reading Specialist, Mrs. Gensler has changed her mind.

    “Now I’m kind of eating my words right now, because my position right now is truly my happy place,” Mrs. Gensler said.

    Thinking back to her days as a student, Mrs. Gensler would never have thought that she’d end up being a Reading Specialist. In fact, Mrs. Gensler said she struggled with reading in her earlier years as a student. 

    Over time, though, Mrs. Gensler learned to love reading, seeing just how important it was to her former 1st grade students. With that in mind, Mrs. Gensler earned her Master’s degree as a Reading Specialist in 2020, before eventually making the transition from 1st grade teacher to Reading Specialist this school year.

    “As a 1st grade teacher, I developed a passion for reading because it’s something that’s paramount in 1st grade. It’s a big year for teaching reading,” Mrs. Gensler said. 

    “When I became a teacher and saw the positive effects that I was having on students and being able to see them grow and for them to recognize and be proud of their growth, that was something that I never experienced growing up. So being able to give those experiences for my past and current students, that’s been really great.”

    Although Mrs. Gensler’s title is a K-3 Reading Specialist, she’s only been working with 2nd and 3rd grade students this school year. Mrs. Gensler works with 23 students, breaking them into groups of 3-5 students based on their needs.

    Throughout the course of a week, Mrs. Gensler focuses on one sound, doing activities such as word building and sentence dictation. Lessons increase in difficulty before students are given comprehension questions at the end of the week, determining if the group can move on to a new lesson.

    Mrs. Gensler has focused especially on fostering a positive learning environment. In a regular classroom, a student might get insecure based on where they’re at in their learning, as compared to their classmates. But in Mrs. Gensler’s classroom, everyone is on the same playing field.

    “The relationships that they’ve built are really powerful,” Mrs. Gensler said. “They really own that they’re all working on the exact same skill, and it doesn’t matter what classroom or grade level they came from. I definitely think that their confidence increases.”

    Mrs. Gensler uses skills and tactics from her time as a classroom teacher to dictate her lessons as a Reading Specialist. Additionally, Mrs. Gensler is able to stop in peer’s classrooms, and use those moments to inform her lessons.

    As a Reading Specialist, though, Mrs. Gensler is able to do some things a bit differently. For example, Mrs. Gensler now uses magnetic letters for word-building, something she couldn’t do in her 1st grade classroom, as she didn’t have enough materials for everyone.

    The small size of her groups helps foster learning in general, Mrs. Gensler said, as students are able to receive more direct attention.

    “In the smaller group setting, the students have more of an opportunity to not only be seen in the work that they’re doing in front of me, but also to be heard. In a traditional classroom, the teacher might be able to only hear a select few students dictating sounds,” Mrs. Gensler said.

    “In my classroom, I’m able to hear everyone’s voice, and if there is some sort of breakdown, we’re able to stop and regroup. We’re able to talk about the way that your mouth looks and the way that your tongue is placed in a certain place in your mouth. We’re able to slow down and watch our peers and watch me and try again.”

    Mrs. Gensler is proud of the work she’s done thus far, and the growth that her students have made this year. Day by day, she helps propel her students forward, giving them the reading skills they need to be successful learners. Those positive steps — no matter how small — are what has now made her job as a Reading Specialist her “happy place.”

    “K-2 is really the grade level span where students are learning to read, and then third grade and above is when students start to read to learn,” Mrs. Gensler said.

    “Those are the years when students need to be able to build those foundational skills, so that when they get to third grade and above, their decoding is nothing that is holding them back from being able to excel.”

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  • Julie Miller voted as December's Staff Member of the Month

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 1/18/2024

    Staff Member of the Month: Julie Miller

    In Julie Miller’s 5th grade Math class, every detail is carefully considered. From the way she approaches each lesson, to the manner in which she’s designed her classroom, Mrs. Miller is always thinking about how to foster a positive, approachable learning environment.

    Students have appreciated Mrs. Miller’s efforts, but so too have her peers, who voted her as December’s staff member of the month.

    “She has designed a classroom that is warm and inviting for her students,” said one staff member. Another staff member commented that, “(she) has an amazing math environment built.”

    “I try to make it useful and make every minute count in the classroom,” Mrs. Miller said about her approach to teaching.

    Mrs. Miller took a circuitous path to the Duquesne City School District, having served as a long-term substitute in multiple districts for several years after earning her Master’s degree as a Reading Specialist. Before last school year, Mrs. Miller was contacted about an open Math teaching position in the district.

    After careful thought, Mrs. Miller took the position and hit the ground running, working tirelessly to learn from her peers and perfect her teaching skills.

    “I had to rethink my teaching strategies. Last year was a good experience for me, and now this year I think I’ve done better and I hope to do better next year,” Mrs. Miller said.

    “I’ve spent some time observing in the other teacher’s classrooms here, and pulled some resources from them and talked to them about what the students would know when they came into my classroom and what the 6th grade teacher wants them to know. I rely on conversing with my other teachers and my mentor teacher.”

    Over time, Mrs. Miller has found her niche by constantly looking for ways to connect her curriculum to real-life situations. For example, Mrs. Miller had students look through grocery ads to work with decimals. In another lesson, Miller likened percentages to determining a tip at a restaurant. 

    Recently, Mrs. Miller had students plan a virtual field trip, using Math skills to calculate mileage and budget out items for an itinerary. 

    Additionally, Mrs. Miller has a weekly raffle for prizes. Students earn raffle tickets through getting an assignment done, being on task or correctly answering the day’s “do-now” — a question of the day assigned at the beginning of a period. 

    Each and every day, Mrs. Miller is thinking creatively, dissecting each detail of her instruction so that she can best serve her students.

    “For me growing up, I needed to make a connection to what I was learning. So what I do for my students is I make it meaningful for them,” Mrs. Miller said. “Everything I do takes into account how the students will approach it. I have a lot of hands-on activities for them.”

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  • Melissa Pawling voted as November's Staff Member of the Month

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 1/11/2024

    Staff Member of the Month: Melissa Pawling

     

    Around the Duquesne City School District, Melissa Pawling is known by a number of names. Many of her peers know her as Missy. Some of the younger kids call her grandma. One student calls her Miss Princess, while another student calls her Miss Missy Miss.

     

    Now, she can go by another name: staff member of the month. Pawling, a paraprofessional, was voted on by her peers as November’s staff member of the month. Pawling’s co-workers laud her for her work ethic and genuine care for the district’s students.

     

    One staff member said, “every day, Ms. Pawling has a smile on her face and brings a sense of joy to the building.” Another staff member commented that, “she does a wonderful job building relationships with the students, and her presence and attitude are always so positive.”

     

    Whether Pawling works in their classroom or not, just about every student seems to know her. And it’s no surprise. Pawling approaches every day with a smile and a contagious energy.

     

    “I love all of the kids,” Pawling said. “I look forward to coming here and seeing all of them.”

     

    Pawling started as a paraprofessional in the district in 2019, but did some substitute teaching before that. She said she’s always held jobs working with children, from working at a daycare to running at-home childcare. Her relationship with the district spans much further. She went to school at Duquesne City, and grew up in the area. 

     

    When building relationships with the district’s students, Pawling is able to relate to them and offer a perspective that they seek out.

     

    “The majority of the kids here, I know either their mother, father, cousin, sister, brother, grandma, or some family member,” Pawling said.

     

    “I think that helps a lot, as far as my reputation with them and my bond with them. A lot of them open up to me more than they would with certain people. I have kids who pull me aside every day to ask if they can talk with me.”

     

    Pawling relishes each and every interaction, knowing just how important it is to offer a receptive ear to the students. When she’s not assigned to a classroom, Pawling can oftentimes be found walking in the hallways, and popping into classrooms to check in on students.

     

    “Even the classrooms that I’m not in, I stop in and talk to the kids to see how their day is going,” Pawling said. “I’m always stopping in to check on different kids.”

     

    Within those interactions, Pawling finds joy. She’s developed strong relationships with a number of students, and has been by their side, seeing each step they take towards growing as a learner and as a person. That progress — no matter how small — is what keeps Pawling going.

     

    “I love seeing them progress. Like there are some students that I’ve seen grow and do so much better this year,” Pawling said. “That’s my motivation to come here every morning.”

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  • "One of the kindest souls": School Board president Sonya Gooden radiates positivity and advocacy

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 1/10/2024

    When talking to Sonya Gooden, it doesn’t take very long to understand what she stands for. Gooden radiates positive energy and a genuine care for uplifting and teaching the youth.

    Around the city of Duquesne, Gooden has become known for these qualities, and the positions she’s held to help spread her energy and beliefs. For 17 years, Gooden has worked with the Duquesne Head Start program, serving as the Family Advocate. For 16 years, Gooden has served on the Duquesne City School District school board.

    Now, Gooden holds a new title: School Board President. Given the type of person Gooden is — a veritable force of kindness, leadership and care for the youth — the role just makes sense.

    “She’s one of the kindest souls that I've ever met. She genuinely cares about the kids. It’s great to have someone like that leading the school board, because she really gets it,” said Duquesne City School District Superintendent Sue Mariani. 

    “She has been a staunch advocate for returning our students and making sure that they have the opportunities, materials and resources that they deserve. Having her as a school board president is key when you’re trying to drive change and innovation and support in bringing our kids back.”

    After learning that she was voted by her peers to become the new school board president in December 2023, Gooden said she was honored.

    “It’s exciting. It’s a confidence builder that I have the support of my fellow peers in the community in moving the district forward,” Gooden said. “Seeing the education environment that’s grown in the community, it’s been really exciting and empowering to be in this position.”

    Gooden joined the school board after she was voted in via write-in. Given her role with the PTA (Parent–Teacher Association) and Head Start, Gooden was an obvious choice back then. Over the years, Gooden has continued to stand on the same values that got her involved with both entities.

    “I do believe that the children are our future, and we have to do all we can to work together and provide a future for the children that come after us, regardless of where they live or the circumstances of their life,” Gooden said.

    In her role with Head Start, Gooden helps with recruitment, enrollment and goal-planning with families, among other things. It’s a job she values and relishes, knowing just how important an early jump on education is.

    “I would say that early intervention is key, not just on an assessment role, but an involvement role, to have parents educated and wanting to get their children involved with education as early as possible,” Gooden said. “We call it Head Start, and I always say that it’s the head start to everything.”

    While Gooden helps jump start kids into education during her workday, giving back to the community stays on her mind at home. When raising her children, Gooden preached the value of education and passing on knowledge and lessons to the youth.

    It’s no surprise that her sons, DiAngelo and Diallo, also hold roles in education. DiAngelo is the Athletic Director/Student Activities Manager and Restorative Practices Facilitator in the Duquesne City School District, while Diallo is the Restorative Practices Coordinator in the Steel Valley School District.

    When discussing her sons taking an interest in education, Gooden said she’s “proud that they listened,” with a laugh. DiAngelo and Diallo are proud, too. Proud of the values that Gooden has continued to stand on, and proud of the immense impact she’s been able to make.

    “She always stressed to give back, to pass on knowledge and wisdom to the youth,” DiAngelo said. “Her dedication towards the kids and community is phenomenal.”

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  • Duquesne City offers valuable new electives to students

    Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 12/22/2023

    When Mr. Kash, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Ryan were approached this school year with the opportunity to choose an elective to teach, they did not hesitate with their decisions.

    Mr. Kash teaches LIFE, a wide-ranging leadership-based class. Mr. Wilson teaches Current Events and Mr. Ryan teaches Theater. All three classes have been well-received, as the district continues to expand its elective offerings to further meet the interests of its students.

    The background for Kash’s LIFE class started several years ago, when Kash was teaching in a district in Texas. 

    “We started to do that at our last campus and slowly started to tether it to the needs of our students,” Kash said. “I saw a lot of success came from it, and so when I came here and found out that I had to teach an elective, I pitched the idea and was granted permission to do it.”

    While Kash centers the class around basic ideas of leadership and life skills, the curriculum has flexibility, and is very much student-centered.

    “Essentially, what I do is I get to know my students first and foremost, find out who they are, what they need in life and try to provide them with everything that I can, whether it be daily things like how to reflect, and we can use reflection to push us in the direction that we need to be,” Kash said.

    “Anything and everything that I have knowledge of or can gain knowledge of and teach to them at a young age, in hopes that they can apply it now to make a change or set them up for the future, is what I try to encompass.”

    Among other topics, Kash said he has taught his students about the stock market, how to tie a tie, how to tie a fishing hook and how to interview for a job, among other things. Additionally, Kash recalled a student who wanted to learn about motivation, noting a transformation that occurred after a couple of days of class.

    “I had a student that told me that they needed motivation to be successful in school. They needed to know how to be successful,” Kash said.

    “I talked about that stuff all week, and then a student came up to me and said, ‘yes, I was in in-school suspension today, but because of what we talked about before I went there, I was able to go ahead and get all of my work done for the entire week that I didn’t do because I want to be better, because I want to grow up and have a story to tell and be a positive influence. To me, that’s what teaching is all about. Just teaching them one thing that really hits them, that’s what I really love.”

    Similar to Kash’s class, Wilson’s Current Events class grew from an acute knowledge of his students and the skills they need to navigate today’s excess of information. Wilson’s class focuses on media literacy and being able to accurately digest the news.

    “With media literacy, nowadays, if kids find out about something it’s through social media. And I think nowadays, media literacy is more important than ever. Now more than ever they need to find divergent opinions,” Wilson said.

    “The state of being objective about facts is very important, and I'm trying to teach them that.”

    For an activity, Wilson might have his class find a news article and then identify the who, what, when, where and why of the information. Additionally, Wilson has asked his students to find two articles with dissenting opinions, and then identify bias.

    “I want them to be hungry to chase what they want to go after,” Wilson said. “If I can get them to read more about objective facts, maybe they can start filling in those lines.”

    Ryan’s Theater class was birthed from his passion for the subject matter, hearkening back to when he took a similar course in middle school.

    “When I was in middle school I had a theater elective that I really enjoyed, and I found that I could really express myself,” Ryan said. “I liked being able to act or do improv and being able to express myself. I liked doing voices and characters and impersonations.”

    On a regular day, Ryan might have his class improv a scene, or read through a screenplay. In the process, his students might also learn some history about Ancient Greek or Roman plays. 

    Similar to how theater gave Ryan an outlet to express himself, Ryan noted that some of his students who might typically be more reserved have opened up in the class.

    “I find that they read more in here. I feel like kids who aren’t reading in class and don’t typically volunteer are volunteering for these parts and really putting themselves out there. It gives them a chance to read out loud and step into a different world,” Ryan said.

    “It’s a pretty positive environment that I try to create. If they start off the morning on a good note and something was fun and exciting and they’re in a good mood, that sets them up well for the rest of the day.”

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