The Sharks Foundation Community Award is given to individuals, businesses or groups who exemplify the Sharks Foundation’s mission to enhance the lives of youth and families in our local area.
This month, the Sharks Foundation is honored to grant Mary Jo Sponseller with the Sharks Foundation Community Award for her commitment to her students and continued dedication to the Reading Is Cool Presented by Comerica Bank program.
Sponseller, a first grade teacher at Oster Elementary School, has been engaged in Reading Is Cool since its inception in 1998. Following the program’s inaugural year, she sat on a panel to help develop the program into what it is today. She has not only encouraged her students to share in her love of reading, but has also brought her passion for the San Jose Sharks into her classroom.
How did you first become a Sharks fan?
My two children and I started going to the games when the Sharks moved to San Jose. I purchased a partial package of games and my son and daughter and I became ardent fans. My son even had his "clunker" car painted teal and he made a plexiglass Shark fin that he attached to the roof of the car on game days.
How did you get into teaching and what is it like teaching first graders?
In high school I tutored children who were struggling readers. I saw the light bulb go on as these children learned how to read, and a whole new world opened up to them. I was hooked!
Teaching first graders is literally a laugh a minute. They are filled with the joy of learning and I can see the excitement in their eyes as they gain new skills. I talk to them about going to college when they are older. I believe in them, and they believe in themselves.
Why do you participate in Reading Is Cool?
I began doing Reading Is Cool the very first year that it began. That year I had a first grade student who didn't like to read, but when I introduced Reading Is Cool to my classroom he became my most motivated student. That young man is graduating from college in just a few months, and to this day I attribute his love of reading and his success in school to the motivation he got from your program.
I participate in Reading Is Cool because it helps inspire and motivate children to become lifelong learners and lifelong readers!
What kind of positive impact has this program made on your students and their reading ability?
In my classroom, the word Sharkie is synonymous with reading. The program instills a sense of pride in the students. Their reading levels continue to rise, their comprehension continues to improve, and their self-esteem is growing by leaps and bounds. Sharkie visited our classroom this year, and the excitement level was through the roof. The children knew that they had achieved something special because they had read so much, and their group effort really paid off.
What does receiving the Sharks Foundation Community Award mean to you?
I am so honored to receive this award. I was surprised when I was notified and very humbled as well. To be recognized for doing something that I love - teaching - is like icing on the proverbial cake. I appreciate that the San Jose Sharks are so involved in our community, and that giving back is of extreme importance to your organization. As an educator, I value the importance of being involved and caring for others. I hope to instill in my students the same feelings. Thank you for believing in teachers, and thank you for believing in me, I will always remember this honor. I appreciate it more than you will ever know.