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KNOXVILLE — Dr. Loretta Long, a nationally known educator and character on public TV’s Sesame Street, entertained and educated local school children today in a joint University of Tennessee-Knox County Schools program.

Dr. Loretta Long

Long, who plays Nurse Susan on Sesame Street, read her book “Courtney’s Birthday Party” to first through fifth grade classes at Maynard Elementary School.

Long, a UT visiting professor, kicked off the UT-Knox County Volunteer Readers Program, which invites UT faculty to read and give selected children’s books to Knox schools.

Her book — a story about racial prejudice but with a happy ending — is one of dozens of noted children’s books chosen by teachers for the program.

The Maynard project is part of UT’s Arts and Sciences Outreach program, and includes faculty volunteers from the College of Education.

Dr. Lynn Champion, director of the outreach program, said the two UT colleges have partnered to educate and prepare teachers since 1983.

“Our faculty are eager to volunteer,” Champion said. “Response to the program from UT, the school, and the children has been wonderful.

“Having Dr. Long to start it off adds to the excitement. We expect enthusiasm to grow as the program progresses.”

Champion said UT has provided enrichment programs for Maynard School since 1998. This year, Barnes and Noble Booksellers is providing discounts on books purchased for the program, she said.

The first UT faculty volunteer readers are Dr. Beth Mullin, botany; Dr. Jerry Dwyer, mathematics; Dr. Stuart Elston, physics; and Dr. Glennon Rowell, dean of education.

Maynard Principal Melvenia Smith said the Volunteer Reader Program can accelerate students’ learning and raise interest in reading.

“When we have UT and celebrities like Dr. Long promoting reading, it helps spark the children’s interest and enhances our reading programs,” Smith said.

Dr. Charles Lindsey, Knox County School Superintendent, said the program is the latest of many UT-Knox County Schools partnerships.

“We are constantly working together to help children and produce better-trained teachers,” Lindsey said.

Long, who has been on Sesame Street for more than two decades, is widely recognized for her style of educating through entertaining. She earned the doctorate in education at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Her work as UT visiting professor last spring and this fall includes lessons in reading, literacy and applied linguistics for students in Knox and Blount county schools and UT.