Community celebration elevates the joy of learning

The mood was festive Wednesday afternoon, with crowds of children and their families joining teachers, paraprofessionals and AFT members from all over the country to celebrate learning as part of the AFT’s 2022 Convention in Boston. 

Just outside the Boston Teachers Union office, the parking lot was buzzing with upbeat music and children taking turns at fishing for prizes in a kiddie pool, playing with sidewalk chalk and bubbles and settling in on a cozy rug for story time. The ice cream truck was on-site, along with cotton candy and fruit skewers from a hands-on cooking project. Inside the building were tables stacked with books for families and teachers to choose for their home libraries and classrooms. 

Community event with Randi
Photo by Michael Campbell

The event was the perfect kick-off to the AFT’s biennial convention, said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “I’m really, really glad that we will start our convention at a community event having fun,” she said. “This is about welcoming and embracing the whole child and all of our families.”

The children were thrilled to see Rubble, their favorite character from the PAW Patrol, Nickelodeon’s cartoon adventure series, who gave out cheery greetings (as did Nickelodeon leaders from the learning platform Noggin). Even the read-alouds were special: The legendary rap star Darryl McDaniels, of the iconic Run-DMC, read from the book he wrote—Darryl’s Dream, about a third-grade poet who gets bullied at school—based on his own experience as a voracious young reader. 

Community event with books
Photo by Michael Campbell

McDaniels pumped up the crowd outdoors, drawing a clear line between music and reading and even getting the adults in on singing the ABC song to demonstrate exactly how rhyme and rhythm work to inspire learning. “Education should be fun,” said McDaniels. And he is a powerful ambassador for reading. “Every time a child picks up a book, something happens to them,” he said. “I’m living proof that something good can happen if all children have the opportunity to read. If they read, they will succeed.”

The book portion of the event is part of Reading Opens the World, the AFT’s campaign to distribute 1 million books (in partnership with First Book) and to provide professional development for teaching reading. As one Boston Public Schools parent said, the titles were diverse and wide-ranging—perfect for the children at the event, who came from a great variety of backgrounds.

Community event
Photo by Pamela Wolfe

At the cooking station, Boston-based celebrity chef Joanne Chang showed participants an easy, kid-friendly recipe for fruit skewers—something she told them she made for her second-grade teacher when she was small. On a more serious note, leaders from Project Bread told visitors about the threat to school meals and how important it is to advocate for a continuation of the program. Elected officials, said Project Bread President and CEO Erin McAleer, need to learn that feeding kids is a top priority. 

Weingarten underscored the importance of parents, students, educators and communities working together to fight for what our schools need. “We need to be together,” she said. “The way we will make this country better is if we all work together.” 

[Virginia Myers]