A magical end to a reading adventure in Suffolk

Published 4:01 pm Thursday, April 6, 2023

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Over the last month, Suffolk elementary students experienced the magic of reading through the All Suffolk Reads program. Students followed the adventures of EllRay Jakes, a third-grader who overcomes various obstacles to perform magic tricks at a school talent show.

This marks the second time Suffolk Public Schools has partnered with the Norfolk-based nonprofit organization All District Reads on a system-wide reading program. Last Fall, all of Suffolk’s elementary students read “Cleo Edison Oliver, Playground Millionaire” by Sundee Frazier. This Spring, the district followed up with “EllRay Jakes Is Magic” by Sally Warner.

The All District Reads’ goal is to encourage school systems to read two chapter books annually. This creates and helps build excitement within the schools around reading. Founded by veteran educator and literacy promoter Gary Anderson, All District Reads works to “light literacy fires” among families. 

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“This program is a game changer,” says Anderson.

Families and educators alike see the benefits that All District Reads bring to the entire community. 

“With families and the community coming together through literacy, our students will achieve,” said Lakeesha McCoy, supervisor of English instruction for Suffolk Public Schools. Throughout the program, families read and discussed one chapter each night.

Schools built interest with trivia contests, spirit activities and other surprises.

Funding from local businesses, the Suffolk Rotary Club and the North Suffolk Rotary Club allowed each elementary family across SPS to receive their own copy of “EllRay Jakes is Magic,” along with a free family resource guide. 

“We can’t afford not to invest in this program,” says George Birdsong, a major program funder.

Suffolk’s spring All District Reads program culminated April 6. 

“We are so excited that the Suffolk Rotary Club has partnered with Suffolk Public Schools for a second book, “Ellray Jakes is Magic,” Superintendent John Gordon III said. “Having two books this year further shows our commitment to All District Reads, but more importantly to our students. It was refreshing to see so many of our students reading for pleasure.”

The All District Reads concept is spreading across southeastern Virginia. Elementary students in Northampton Public Schools also read the book during March, as did fifth-grade students in Virginia Beach City Public Schools. All three districts plan to do another book this fall, with Virginia Beach planning to expand the program to include all elementary school students. Norfolk and Chesapeake have signed up to implement the All District Reads program in the future.

To learn more about the All Suffolk Reads program, contact Melissa Twisdale at

melissatwisdale@spsk12.net or visit alldistrictreads.org.