Hess Educational Complex second-grader Samantha Hassa got up early March 8 to pick out her outfit for school. And she did so not by poring through her closet for the right combination, but by reading.

Samantha, wearing a frilly purple dress and a pink feather boa in imitation of Fancy Nancy, the main character of a popular eponymous children's book series, joined hundreds of classmates in dressing as their favorite literary figure for Hess' Character Day, which is designed to promote literacy.

Samantha's mother, Amy, was at the school to drop off something when her daughter's class paraded through the lobby for judging. She said events such as Character Day are valuable because they get the kids reading.

"I think any program in which the children are able to embrace education outside of a book is so positive, because it makes them excited," Hassa said.

Character Day is one of several events planned for March by librarians Kristen Mulraney and Janet Yunghans and literacy coach Jennifer Farrell in celebration of National Reading Month.

In addition to the Character Day, students were visited by children's book author Debbie Dadey on March 1 and through February created "book floats" - shoe boxes decorated to depict scenes from their favorite books - which will be on display in the hallway outside the school's library through March.

The school will also hold its Scholastic Book Fair March 18-22. Family night, which will include readings, snacks and interactive activities for students and their families, will be March 20 from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Character Day, which was first held in 2010, has become a popular event for students and staff alike, with most at the school taking part. Mulraney, who dressed as a character from Dr. Seuss' 10 Apples Up On Top, said events such as Character Day are an important part of building the culture of literacy that Hess tries to cultivate.

"They get kids motivated to read and to share books with their friends that they love," said Mulraney, who dressed as 10 Apples Up On Top. "The staff gets involved and it builds a sense of community with everyone. Everyone gets excited about it."

The two students in each homeroom in the school with the best costumes were given certificates and prizes after the judging. Samantha, who accessorized with a wide-brimmed hat, an abundance of multi-colored bracelets and jewelry and a purse with a faux-pearl strap, was one of those honored for her costume.

Hassa, who has a 5-year-old son in kindergartener at Shaner, said she encourages her kids to dress up and use their imaginations. Character Day reinforces the sort of lessons she teaches at home, she said, and is typical of the Hess staff.

"I really think that the teachers in Hamilton Township are some of the most amazing teachers I've ever had the opportunity to work with," Hassa said. "Honestly, every single one of them cares about these children more than I could ever imagine."

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