Third grade students at Middle Township Elementary School No. 2 met the man - or cat - under the hat at an assembly for the New Jersey Education Association's Read Across America campaign Feb. 18.

Read Across America Day is an annual National Education Association initiative that aims to promote reading in public schools. If chosen, a school will receive a visit from the Cat in the Hat and the book "The Sneetches and Other Stories," by Dr. Seuss.

After the school wrote to the NJEA, Middle Township Elementary No. 2 was chosen to receive a visit from the 7-foot-tall cat, much to the delight of the third graders.

Third-grade teacher Nicole DelCorio said that Middle Township Elementary has been actively engaging students to read more.

"We have DEAR time where the students Drop Everything and Read for twenty minutes," DelCorio said.

The annual Read Across America celebration is celebrated at this time of year in honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday, on March 2.

Two students in DelCorio's class, Holly Mader, 9, and Steven Berrodin, 8, said that they enjoy the time when they get to honor the Cat in the Hat.

"A few of the last years we've been reading Dr. Seuss books," Berrodin said. "My favorite is 'Green Eggs and Ham.' It was the first book I ever read without pictures."

Mader said that "Yertle the Turtle" was her favorite Dr. Seuss book.

The third graders in the assembly were all donning red and white stovepipe hats - the one that the Cat in the Hat wears - and some had whiskers. The students had no idea that they would be getting a visit from the Cat.

The NJEA sends retired teachers to 250 schools in New Jersey dressed as the Cat throughout February and March. The teachers apply to pose as the cat, and they receive a small stipend if chosen.

After the children watched the original Cat in the Hat cartoon, they took a pledge with Principal Douglas Penkethman to read as much as they can every day. Then, the students sang a song, "Dr. Seuss We Love You," to which the Cat appeared.

As the Cat made his way up and down the aisles, the children were able to take a closer look at the towering trickster.

Jean Carl, a retired middle school teacher from Salem County, is the face behind the mask and under the hat. Carl is responsible for schools in Southern New Jersey.

Together, she and her husband, who helps her with the Cat in the Hat costume, travel to four schools a day for four days a week, bringing public school children the pleasure and wonderment that comes with seeing the giant icon promote Dr. Seuss in their schools.

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