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July 20, 2017

Anna Maria Oyster Bar Summer Program: Seeing Children for the Wonderment That They Are

“If you want children, all children, reading at the appropriate level by the end of third grade, we are going to have to learn how to see these kids, for real — really see them. See their circumstance, see their challenges, see their brilliance, see their goodness. Enough of looking where the challenges are. We know where the problems are, we’ve helped to build some of those problematic spaces. But, we’re not going to be able to unpack and change that until we’re able to see these children in the wonderment that they are, in the gift that they are. If you start seeing people, they start showing up.” Rev. Alvin Herring, Director, Racial Equality & Community Engagement, W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

These inspiring words were shared as part of the keynote address to a room full of Campaign for Grade-Level Reading passionaries at the All-America City Award presentation. Rev. Alvin Herring shared his belief that our connections to each other create an energy we can use to change what is, into what we wish to see.

These words echoed in my ears as I visited Ellenton’s Anna Maria Oyster Bar at 8:30 am on a Monday morning a few weeks ago. The restaurant was electric with about 25 incoming 2nd and 3rd graders from the School District of Manatee County sitting with about 20 Anna Maria Oyster Bar customers/volunteers. The students and volunteers ate breakfast together, updated each other on books they had been reading, participated in a hands-on learning experience, looked over a new book together, and shared their answers to some “getting to know you” questions. The connections made were joyful and meaningful for the students and the volunteers.

There were smiles on the faces of the children, their teachers, the volunteers, and the servers in the restaurant. Perhaps no one was smiling wider than Anna Maria Oyster Bar owners John and Amanda Horne. This Summer Reading Program was their brainchild. They brought their idea to the School District of Manatee County, Manatee County Libraries, The Patterson Foundation, several food vendors, and their loyal customer base. “Everyone wanted to help,” said Amanda. “We had food vendors asking what they could do to help make the program succeed,” added John. The School District and Manatee County Libraries collaborated on curriculum and book selection, The Patterson Foundation included Anna Maria Oyster Bar in the Suncoast Summer Book Challenge, and educator, Autumn Blevins helped John and Amanda to implement the program.

The children, all from Title 1 Elementary Schools, came to the Anna Maria Oyster Bar once a week, for the four weeks of their school’s summer program. The restaurant hosted three different groups of kids each week. From what I witnessed, it is certain that the volunteers saw these children in the wonderment that they are, in the gift that they are.

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