In Reading Rooms on 03/22/2018 - 2:27 PM

Candy Carson’s Reading Room Tour

Take a step inside a few reading room openings from Candy Carson’s perspective! 

Lake Park Elementary 

Student greeters in the main office sporting headbands with wildlife ears greeted guests with hearty handshakes as they arrived and then proceeded to escort them to the ceremony in the detached music room. A bevy of 2nd graders sat cross-legged in the middle of the floor while the 20 or so community guests relaxed in folding chairs surrounding the students.

After a short welcome and introduction by Principal Michelle Fleming, the students rose to their feet to sing the South African song “We Are Marching in the Light of Love”.

John and Ginger Bills, sponsors of the newest Ben Carson Reading Room, shared their thoughts on the room and their appreciation of having the opportunity to impact the lives of the students in a positive way.

Facts about the brain and its power were the focus of Mrs. Carson’s address.  And as she gave examples of the brain’s power, the students were quietly taking it in.

The video of Dr. Carson sharing what a privilege it was to serve as a neurosurgeon included the challenges of working on something as intricate as a brain.  But “all the hard work and time involved in solving the complex problems was well worth it, to be able to help someone to continue to live, or to experience better quality of life.”  He told why the scholars fund was started and the many reasons why children should spend time reading.  “Magical things happen when you read…when you open a book you can travel, meet new friends, fuel your dreams, inspire your imagination…”  Although early in his life, he didn’t feel this way, he spoke of how his mother convinced him of how important reading is, and the fact that the person who has the most to do with what happens to you, is you!  His parting comments encouraged everyone to read actively and “always THINK BIG”!!

The group then travelled to the media center, where the opening became official as the ribbon was cut.   As soon as you enter the room, your eyes are drawn to the banner on the far wall with the theme, “Lions are wild about literacy”.   Lake Park Elementary’s sports teams are known as the lions…hence the theme!  Lions can be versatile…successful in sports, and successful in academics.

The Room

In accordance with the theme, the African decor and wildlife paraphernalia with popular fabric patterns of the continent, teased the eyes from their strategic positions amongst the books and wall art. Jaguar spots, tiger and zebra stripes, giraffe patterns, and elephant grays gave visitors the sensation of being on safari….perhaps a safari in search of a different type of ‘big game’, the big game of ‘success in life’!  Several hooks to hang towels on by the sink in the room were in the shape of elephants’ heads, with the trunk curved in just the right arc for a towel to rest on.  Rugs on the floor sported pictures of African ladies wrapped in native costumes walking with various items perched on their heads.  From the bookends to wall hangings and objects d’art, the “wildness” theme pervaded the entire space!

The 550 titles from Barnes and Noble were district-approved and even better yet were obtained at a special reduced rate so that more books could be purchased for the students. This Title 1 school has 97% of its students on the free lunch program.  31% of the student populace has English as a second language, most of whom are of Haitian-Creole descent.

The principal’s mother, Darlene Gonclaves, not only decorated the room, but did the catering as well!   And in keeping with her creative decorating style, dazzled us all with a menu featuring African style taste treats, from South and West Africa including malva pudding (a recipe that calls for apricot and spices) and milk tart cups, which were like creme brûlée cupcakes.

Special thanks to Barnes and Noble representatives Lauren Pfretzschner and Taylor Neff, Cindy Castle of Bridges of Lake Park, funded through the Children’s Services Council to increase literacy, healthy births and address child abuse; Linda Leet of Exchangette of the Northern Palm Beaches and the educators and volunteers who all worked to make this dream a reality through their partnerships.

Washington Elementary 

Approximately 200 students gathered in the cafeteria at the tables as counselor, Ms. Hawanya Render started the program by speaking about the special day and the impact of the newest initiative at Washington Elementary, a school which rose from an “F” classification with the Florida Student Assessment tests to within 2 points of an “A” assessment in one year!  The B score of 419 was just not quite at 421…  She intoned, “Due to this special reading room, students will develop not just a respect for reading but a love for it as well.”  She remarked that “We are all here amongst the best and brightest students in Florida!”

The Pledge of Allegiance was led by several safety patrolers, one of whom had proudly held the flag by its post, marched it to the front of the room, and gently unfurled the symbol of freedom for the pledge in a patriotic show of respect.

The curtains on the stage parted to reveal two rows of students in uniform, standing in formation holding their instruments.   Introduced as the Crescendo Recorder Ensemble, Latoya Wilson led the group composed of 16 students from various grades in a musical “salute to readers everywhere” to the tune of Blue Africa with the words, “When the Saints Come Marching In.”

Ms. Walden, media specialist, then called sponsor Mr. Ron Berman to the podium to share his thoughts, thanking him and his lovely wife Kim for such a generous donation. Washington Elementary had been specifically chosen to be a Reading Room school by the Berman couple because Kim had attended there as a child growing up in Palm Beach Gardens, FL.  Her perception of the school was that it hadn’t changed!  It was still in good shape and just as she remembered it!

Reading books at a young age is what Mr  Berman said he believed helped him to develop into a success. He remarked about how fortunate…”lucky” the students were to have a room such as this to enable them to dream…and not only to dream but to expand and build on those dreams!

The questions of the day presented by Candy Carson were, “Do any of you ever get bored?

And how can you avoid getting bored? “ More hands were raised than you would think on the first question.  But even more hands were raised to answer the second one, because the students recognized that the answer was “to read”!  Candy went on to speak of the power of our brains, and how no one should ever say “I can’t”, because we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  She encouraged the students by using the example of the story of one of her husband’s patients who after having half her brain surgically removed, studied so hard that she became the top student in her math class with only half a brain!  “If she can do that with only half a brain, what can you do with a whole brain and a little determination?”

In a video, Dr Carson said he was thankful to have the privilege of working as a neurosurgeon, describing his day to day tasks as complex and challeneging.  Although each of us has challenges, one of his key points was “you don’t have to be a victim”.  Because the person who has the most to do with what happens to you is you, you can take charge of your life.  Anything you don’t understand, ask somebody for help, and/or read about it. He closed with these words, “read every day, and don’t forget to THINK BIG”.

Everyone in the room felt the beat as the musical selection presented by W.E.S Young Artists (from grades 2 to 5) sang and performed exciting choreography to the tune of Michael Jackson’s famous “Beat It”, with the words creatively changed to “Read it…just read it!”

Closing remarks by Principal Mrs. Edwards included the fact that as a Title 1 school with 97% of the student population on free lunch, they students could still soar to new heights by reading.

The Room

Walking through the library, hidden behind an innocent-looking, almost invisible door, you discover a room to the right side decorated to captivate the attention and inspire a love of reading!  The first thing you notice upon entering are the cheery yellow walls, that brighten one’s dreams!  And in shades where you might barely notice, but the suggestion would be firmly imprinted on the brain, are yellow stars encouraging each student to be the best they can be…a star in their own right!

In the first nook, the resident learning tree spreads its benevolent branches to welcome learners as well as feel like a shelter from the storms of life.  The butterfly hovering around the leaves is only one of the ways creative thoughts can take flight in such an imaginative setting.

A bookworm painted on one of the wall bookcases peeks from beneath a shelf of books in search of the one book that would suit his fancy that day.  The pup tent located near the center of the room offers a haven for students to crawl in and imagine colorful imaginings inspired by the various brilliant hues of each section of the tent.

A brightly colored rug near the mural is edged in books encircled by gaming chairs while the other side of the room has cushioned block seats and comfy beanbag chairs…all in primary colors!

A waist-high bookcase acts as a room divider while mobile shelving units of the same height composed of scarlet red tubing form bright accents, offering choices of destinations for students’ minds to travel.

However, the crowning glory is the mural on the far wall with larger-than life students kneeling in a huge book (a la magic carpet ride) resting on the world!!  “Reading takes me places I’ve never been before”  is the caption in red letters.   Books can take you places, indeed!  Even to the top of the world!  And thoughts and inspirations from books are indeed limitless, and can be ‘out of this world’!  Nearby on a much smaller scale is the painting of an elephant who has reached for a star and is holding it in his trunk, while he is perched on the moon!!  If you shoot for a star, you feel you can really catch it, as well as reach the moon!  “You can be bigger and better than anything you can imagine!”

Forest Park Elementary

Guests were ushered through the student-art-decorated halls of Forest Park Elementary to the gymnasium/auditorium, also nicely decorated, including helium-filled heart balloons tied the the rail and hovering over the wheelchair ramp to the stage.

Opening the program, Mistress of Ceremonies Helen Goldberg, an ESOL educator introduced the Pledge. which was lead by 3 safety-patrollers wearing chartreuse safety belts.

Music teacher, LaShaun Tribble, wearing a navy African print handkerchief-hem dress prefaced her rendition of our national anthem with her pleasure at being able to sing and honor her grandfather who was a veteran by wearing a white lace sash in honor of his service in the armed forces.   Her stirring interpretation was met with thunderous applause.

Our direction was then sent to the screen that had been lowered in front of the stage draperies.  We all watched mesmerized as the pages of the Mrs. Wishy-Washy book turned before our eyes and the story unfolded. The audio narration by one of the teachers which included quite realistic animal noises truly brought the story to life.

Principal Nancy Robinson’s welcome began with “Today we have come together as a community to celebrate the opening of the Ben Carson Reading Room.” She thanked the visitors who took time out of their schedules to be there, including the donors, committee members, Carson Scholar representatives and even the Mayor of the city of Boynton Beach!!  Her closing statement, “Students, we welcome you to explore the fascinating new worlds that await you in all the books!

Then Shiela Schlagger and Earl Abramson were called to the stage.  Sheila started with how much she and Earl “…appreciate the wonderful opportunity to contribute to helping children develop their reading skills. and open their eyes to new places, journeys, peoples.”  From her perspective as a former principal and teacher, she said she “realizes the importance of reading and how words can become friends.  Reading expands and deepens thinking and literacy is fundamental to success.”   Her comments also included her appreciation of Richard Meyer for bringing them to this important, impactful initiative.   She ended with “……It’s time to explore this new world…the reading room!”

In appreciation, several students presented the sponsors with a cheery bouquet of flowers.

Greetings from the school board of District 7 were brought by Deborah Robinson, a physician by training and school board member who also shared congratulatory remarks and encouraged the students about the positive aspects of reading and how it can help develop them.

Ms. Joi Grant spoke next “on behalf of regional superintendent, Dr. Ian Saltzman who would like to thank the foundation, sponsors, committees and all involved in making this endeavor such a success.”

Candy Carson found out again that children do get bored, as her usual polling question brought about quite a high percentage of hands raised amongst the students.  After commenting on the enormous capacity of our brains, she shared the powerful story of one of her husband’s hemispherectomy patients, who rose to the top of her math class after diligent study…with only half a brain.  The question she then posed to make the children reconsider their focus, “If she can do that with a 1/2 brain, what can you do with a whole brain and a little determination?”

Mayor Steven Grant, the youngest mayor of Boynton Beach, firmly began with, “Reading is important”. and gave examples for the necessity of reading in his life:  He needed to read to become the mayor…filling out forms, listening to people by reading their requests, and finding out what they needed from reading their letters.  His final words: ”Everybody wants to get an “A”.   Get an A in life, and you will definitely succeed!”

We were all surprised to see the character of the book, Mrs. Wishy Washy come to life in her unique costume as she marched to the stage.  With her curly blonde wig tied up in a bright bandana (a la Lucille Ball), and her navy dress covered by a red-and-white-striped apron, the pink fuzzy slippers over white tights all grabbed our attention!  She was accompanied by 12 ESOL (English for Speaker of Other Languages) children from kindergarten through 2nd grade.  Her quest?  To find the Ben Carson Reading Room. “It is over there?”, she’d ask.  And the kids would respond in unison, “no”.   “Well maybe it’s in the back there….or what about way over yonder?”  When she asked for help to sing a song, immediately the drum ensemble to the left of the stage began to beat an introduction to the song on “djembe drums” while about 30 more IB (International Baccalaureate) students, fell into step as they approached the stage from the audience.  It was a colorful sight as many of the marchers were dressed in their native costumes from other countries.   The song welcomed all people in various languages:  “Hello, bonjour, buenos dias….hello to all the children of the world.”




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