Alligators were on the loose in room 305 at John Jacob Astor Elementary School Tuesday afternoon.

The third-grade students laughed and danced to alligator-themed stories and songs as part of a schoolwide celebration of Read Across America Week. Astoria schools participated in the National Education Association's 12th annual event meant to motivate students to master their reading skills.

Four Brownsmead residents visited the classroom, treating the 22 youngsters to an hour of songs, tall tales and a rollicking good time.

Teacher Debbie Twombly said she invited the singers so kids could see how much fun reading can be.

"It is important for them to see that reading isn't just something to do for school," she said.

She asked each of the visitors to share a personal story about how they learned to read.

Her husband, Larry Moore, a landscaper, held his mandolin in his lap as he told the students how he struggled with reading for the first few years.

"It was a little bit hard because I started a little bit late. I didn't go to kindergarten so I got put in the 'slow readers' class," he said. Only after his mother spent time with him every night going over the basics during the first grade, did he finally catch up.

Twombly said it's important for her students to realize that reading doesn't come easily for everyone - and that's OK.

Next Twombly asked Moore what he likes to read now.

"Surfing magazines!" he answered, his love for the activity obvious. Nonfiction, too, is also a favorite.

"Does everyone know what nonfiction means?" Moore asked the classroom.

Barely a second later, Aleks Matthews enthusiastically yelled out an answer - maybe without thinking it through.

"It's not true!" Matthews said, clearly thrilled to be able to participate in the action at the front of the room. Many students, with equal enthusiasm, chimed in to voice their opposite opinions.

The four musicians have been playing together for decades, Twombly said, and are practically neighbors. One of the songs Dan Sutherland, Ray Raihala and John Fenton played with Moore was about a mysterious alligator that lives in Brownsmead's Blind Slough.

Each musician read a book to the class, alternating with songs accompanied by the group's guitars, a fiddle, a mandolin and a banjo. Toward the end of the performance, many of the students got up to dance, Twombly said.

Later, each classroom in the elementary school was to host a guest reader from Astoria Middle School; Tony Rudolphi, a former student of Twombly's, was set to take that role in room 305. Earlier, students and teachers celebrated with "read a button" day and "read a T-shirt" day. Another highlight will be today's read-in in the library, where students can cozy up with pillows and blankets while curling up with a good book.

Schools throughout the district also celebrated with reading themed activities.

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