WILKES-BARRE — The mashed potatoes may have been cloud puffs from Mt. Fuji and the carrots twiglets from Jupiter, but the most unusual thing in the Dodson Elementary kindergarten class Thursday morning was probably the guy reading the book.
When burly, balding Donald Brominski crouched into a kid-size corner chair and started reading “I will never not ever eat a tomato,” he became, for about an hour, a real rarity in the United States: A man in a kindergarten classroom.
Nationwide, a bit more than 2 percent of preschool teachers are men, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Which is one reason United Way of Wyoming Valley kicked off the program that brought Brominski, Director of Business Development at UGI Utilities, to Dodson.
“Real Men Read” is designed to put a guy into the classroom once a month to read and interact with the youngsters. The reality, United Way Community Impact Director Jennifer Deemer said, is that many of the children at risk of falling behind in literacy come from single-parent households and have no male role model.
The program provides that role model and helps build a home library by giving each student a book after the reading session. The readers are called MENtors, and get a bit of training in how to interact, United Way CEO Bill Jones said.
Not that Brominski seemed to need it. He was a natural, so much so that he made the simple act of passing around a piece of black pipe used for gas lines fun.
“It’s hard,” one boy said. “Don’t hit your face with it.”
The book was one of author Lauren Child’s “Charlie and Lola” sagas. Lola insists there are many things she won’ t eat: Peas, carrots, potatoes, spaghetti, eggs, sausage, baked beans, apples, rice, cheese, and fish sticks, to name a few. Oh, and at the top of the list, tomatoes.
“I like tomatoes,” Aelish Jones admitted. Then she added, “I’m fussy. I don’t like carrots.”
“I like cake!” one tyke offered.
“I eat everything!” Landon Kepler said with obvious pride.
Others didn’t like tomatoes, prompting Brominski to ask if they liked pizza. The collective answer was an enthusiastic yes, so he asked if they knew “what the red stuff on pizza is?”
“Pepperoni,” several shouted.
In the story, Charlie tricks Lola by calling mashed potatoes “cloud puffs,” peas “green drops from Greenland,” and carrots “orange twiglets from Jupiter.” She turns the table on him when she asks for her favorite, “Moon squirters,” and points to a bowl of tomatoes.
Deemer said the program is funded through grants and donations, and is a natural complement to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, an initiative United Way launched locally last year that sends a book each month to enrolled children under 5.
There are 12 MENtors so far and the program is restricted to Dodson for now, but Deemer said the agency hopes to expand it to at least one other school soon.
The bigger picture: Making sure at-risk students from low-income families are good readers by the time they reach third grade. Jones noted that, statistically, literacy proficiency at that level correlates tightly with drop-out rates nine years later.
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish