ST. GEORGE — Recently, the St. George Fire Department dispatched firefighters to Legacy Elementary School, not for an emergency, but to ignite a different kind of fire: a passion for reading.

St. George Fire Capt. Daniel Basso reads to students in St. George, Utah, March 8, 2024 | Photo by Bridger Palmer, St. George News

Legacy Elementary School was among the nearly 20 schools that participated in “Read with a Hero” day, an event where fire and police departments visited classrooms across the Washington County School District on March 8.

Vasu Mudliar, a 12-year firefighting veteran and founder of the event, split his unit into pairs and sent them to every floor of the school.

Like clockwork, a smiling firefighter would open a classroom door, ask if they might read to the class, and before the teacher could respond, excited cheering erupted out into the hallways.

It was evident the fireman had done this before. While reading books such as “Hooway for Wodney” and “Wonder,” they would pause the reading to ask the students funny questions, keeping them engaged.

Sydnee Jolley’s second grade class read “The Old Woman Who Named Things” with Mudliar. 

Jolley said she had been looking forward to this event.

“I just love it when they come in and connect with the kids,” Jolley said. “Any personal connection is important. Also, it helps the kids realize that reading is important for everyone.”

Legacy Elementary School is home of the Broncos, St. George, Utah, March 8, 2024 | Photo by Bridger Palmer, St. George News

The first classroom visited was Cecelia Gonzaga’s Spanish-only class. Mudliar and his unit only know English.

But St. George Fire Capt. Daniel Basso dusted off a language he hadn’t spoken for over a decade, stepped in front of Gonzaga’s classroom and opened a copy of “El Hombre Mosca,” a popular children’s book series known as “Fly Guy” in English.

When he closed the book, he received a round of applause from the students.

“That was the first time I’ve read in Spanish in 10 years,” Basso said. “The feeling of being welcomed in their classrooms is the best part.”

Mudliar created this reading outreach program from scratch just a few years ago. 

While helping the school district raise money for classroom grants, Mudliar noticed a need for people to come into classrooms and read to the kids.

So Mudliar messaged Amy Mitchell, the executive director of elementary education, and told her he had an idea.

“One of my personal projects was to get police and fire (personnel) in the schools and read to the kids,” Mudliar said.

L-R: Brandon Gray, Zach Koeller, Vasu Mudliar, Garret Gleed and Justin Ray are the “heroes’”that read to Legacy Elementary School students in St. George, Utah on March 8, 2024 | Photo by Bridger Palmer, St. George News

He asked Mitchell if they could form a community partnership.

“I said, ‘Absolutely, we can,’” Mitchell said.

This is especially important to Mitchell, as she is a former educator who now oversees literacy programs in Washington County elementary schools.

“Our students see their teachers, principals, and parents read,” she said. “They look at these community role models as if they are superheroes, and now they see them read, too. It has a powerful impact on the girls and boys in our community. Is there a skill we learn in school more important than reading?”

Other than providing an act of service, Mudliar says it’s an excellent way to build community.

“We want the kids to know that we’re on their side, we’re their friends, and we want to help them feel comfortable around us,” he said.

Mudliar is hopeful the event will continue to positively impact the local youth.

“I love reading,” Mudliar said.

Police and fire departments from Santa Clara, Ivins, Washington, Enterprise and Diamond Valley all visited elementary schools in Washington County.

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