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Youth's Benefit Elementary

Fallston, MD

Spaced Out with a Swamp? Or Swamped in Outer Space?

It was a sunny, balmy day in September, the kind you’d like to take out of your pocket on cold, wintry day. On the 29th of September, the almost 1,200 students of Youth’s Benefit Elementary School in Fallston, Maryland converged on their campus, which occupies two buildings: one for grades K, 1 & 2, and the other with grades 3, 4, & 5. Since students are located in two buildings, the planning committee organized TWO Ben Carson Reading Rooms and opening ceremonies, one in each building.

The program for the younger set began first, with the Fallston Girl Scouts. These cute little “Brownies” in their brown vests and khaki skirts carried in the U.S. and Maryland flags and led the assembly in the Pledge of Allegiance. Principal Angela Morton set the tone for the program, welcoming the visitors, and introducing Tom Lusardi. Tom, a member of the Youth’s Benefit Education Foundation and parent of an YBES student, worked for two years spearheading this project.

After speaking on the process and how the project developed, he introduced the artists responsible for the lovely artwork on the walls- five former students of Youth’s Benefit who currently attend three different high schools:  John Carroll, Science and Math Academy, and Fallston High School! Students from the upper school held up the individual letters of THINK BIG to the tune of “Yankee Doodle”, as the Gallant Gator Chorus sang the significance of each letter.

Candy Carson then spoke on the importance of reading and implored the students to thank the administrators and committee members for the hard work that went into establishing the rooms. On behalf of the Carson Scholarship Fund, Mrs. Carson presented Tom Lusardi with a special certificate of thanks. A wide gold ribbon was then stretched across the stage by two upper-school scholars; Principal Morton, Candy Carson and Tom Lusardi cut the ribbon on the count of 3!

The Reading Room was another amazing illustration of the creativity of the organizers. The students voted for the theme of “Space,” and the artists decided to depict the inside of a space station. The pale gray walls come alive with circular portholes and trapezoidal windows complete with rivets, and outer-space scenes: the planet Saturn with its rings, a satellite, an alien peeking in a window, and the planet Earth even had an alligator (the school mascot) on it! A detailed instrument panel with all the bells and whistles runs almost the full length of the room. Suspended from the ceiling is a student-sized NASA jumpsuit, and NASA helmet. In the corner is a locker with NASA space boots!

A door painted on the wall welcomes “Star Readers!” Comfy bean bag chairs, green gator-shaped lounge seats, and a room-sized navy carpet detailing planetary orbits round out this beautiful room lined with books. The guests then walked to the adjacent building to repeat the program for the upper school. After the ribbon cutting, several 4th- and 5th-
graders shared their thoughts on THINKING BIG and reading, passing the microphone back and forth. Upper school students voted to have a swamp theme for their Reading Room, and with the gator as their mascot we can see why!

When the committee got the approval from the county to build the three walls needed for this room it was almost September, so they had to move quickly and they did! The pale green and blue walls are topped with open, rectangular spaces that render a feeling of openness. In the water on the wall mural are several watchful gators amongst lily pads, 3-D grasses, and a blue heron, one of Maryland’s state birds. Trees painted in the corners continue to give one the feeling of the great outdoors, and in the trees are an oriole, the other Maryland state bird, Virginia state bird – the cardinal, and of course the mural includes a patriotic, soaring eagle. Above the bookshelves are the words Think Big: the letters of ‘Think’, painted like tree bark, representing how well-grounded thoughts can grow and expand upward, and the letters of “Big” are clouds, taking our thoughts and dreams even more skyward!

Lily pad carpets and five-foot long, cushy, environmentally-sensitive velvet-upholstered brown logs beg you to rest yourself in their comfort! When you close the door to the room, the mural continues across the door, so that you feel totally enveloped in the “comfort” of the swamp! Thank you to Tom Lusardi, to our sponsor, The Youth’s Benefit Educational Foundation, and to our wonderful committees, Vice Principals Jacob Little and Brad Stinar, our special guests: Mrs. Linda Chamberlain, Harford County Executive Director of Elementary School Performance, Rosemary Hajeck and Jackie Euler, and to the talented high school artists: Lucas Crofton, Becca Kotula, Allison Stokes, April Privett, and Carey Titus.