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Photo Courtesy Capehart: Cynthia Sulzberger and Nancy Jones

By Gregory Cox
Daily News Staff Writer

Elementary school students learned all about reading Monday but in a very different setting: the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens.
About 350 students from three Title I schools, or schools with a high percentage of children from low-income families, visited for the eighth annual Literacy Days, going from more than a dozen stations to engage with various authors, illustrators, librarians, law enforcement officials and artists.
“It’s another way to get kids excited about reading,” said resident Cynthia Sulzberger, a trustee with the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens and underwriter for the event.
This is her seventh year with the event and reading is her business. Her father, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger was the publisher of The New York Times before her brother succeeded him. Now, she gives at-risk students a chance to learn with a view. “To be in this environment and spend a day in a garden is a different opportunity for these kids.”

The garden setting wasn’t the only thing different about the event. Many of the speakers used an atypical approach to engage students.

“You have to educate and entertain,” said Abasi Hanif, a hand percussionist who was part of the program. “I try to utilize the drum as art.”

As students rotated between the booths, a group of third graders came in. Hanif told them, “I don’t like to perform for people. I like to perform with people.” He started to bang on the drum, mimicking a heartbeat and asked students to join him and sing along.

On the other side of the gardens, in what was once used as Ann Norton’s studio, Palm Beach resident Loretta Neff read her book, Tame Your Manners to a dozen second-grade students, relating animals to polite behaviour.
“A giraffe stands tall and greets people with poise, posture and confidence,” she told the class. “Who wants to volunteer to be our giraffes?” she asks, and 12 small hands shot up.

She is also the founder of EW Foundation, a non-profit organization to promote strong social skills and proper etiquette, and $10 from every book sale goes toward community outreach programs.
“We want children to have these skills,” she said, adding that she doesn’t really like the word “etiquette.” “I’m really more about character education.”
Nancy Jones, education coordinator for the garden, called Literacy Days “a perfect event to turn struggling students on to literature,” she said. “Hopefully, they’ll get excited and make their own literacy magic.”