In Reading Rooms on 10/17/2022 - 9:11 AM

Cullowhee Valley Reading Room Opening by Candy Carson

It was a thrillingly happy day for EVERYONE at Cullowhee Valley School in western North Carolina! So much so, that when you walked into the vestibule, even the life-size bronze statue of their mascot, Cully the Wolf, might have been wagging his tail and winking his eye…when he thought no one was looking! (If you timed it right, you might have gotten a glimpse of the wolf wagging and winking!)

It was the first time the school had an actual assembly in three whole years! The principal even said that for their students in 2nd grade on down through preschool, this would be their first school assembly ever!
The special assembly was organized to celebrate the establishment of a new THINK BIG Reading Room at Cullowhee Valley. This would be the first in this part of the state, as well as the first in Jackson County!

Jackson County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Dana Ayers and 80% of the school board members were on site to support the new initiative to enhance the educational experience of the students. And the folks from “downtown” went all out! Almost half of the board and even the superintendent were wearing the school colors, black and gold!

The warm welcome by Principal Holly Whisnant was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. (She later informed us that the entire school recites the Pledge of Allegiance and sings the National Anthem first thing every day! But that morning they only sang and saved the Pledge for the program.)

The audience’s attention was then drawn to stage left as “All was quiet on the Western (NC) front.” On choral risers, Cullowhee Valley’s 7th and 8th grade chorus then shared the song, “When You’re Reading,” with motions to the tune of “When You’re Smiling.”

4th grader, Hudson Stephens, followed with a poetry reading of “Open a Book” by Jane Baskwill. He dressed as his favorite literary character, Willy Wonka.

Open a book
And you will find
People and places of every kind;
Open a book
And you can be
Anything that you want to be;
Open a book
And you can share
Wondrous worlds you find in there;
Open a book
And I will too
You read to me
And I’ll read to you!

The already quiet room became even more so as the video played Dr. Ben Carson’s address to the school, without a hitch! He described his transformation from being the dummy in the class to achieving top scores, by reading books and doing the reports required by his mother. Although he didn’t like it at first, preferring to play outside with his friends, he soon became interested in all kinds of books! And he shared that while reading the books, he came to the conclusion that “the person who has the most to do with what happens to you…is YOU! YOU can determine your own path to success by READING! Books are special and provide ways for each of you to explore! They can take you anywhere you want to go, and to anyone you want to meet!”

Mrs. Candy Carson spoke about the power of the brain, sharing the dramatic story of one of her husband’s hemispherectomy patients and about how important it is to exercise your brain by reading.

Next was the perspective of co-sponsor, Mrs. Cheri Martin, whose black and gold scarf elegantly displayed the school colors over her lovely black dress.  She quickly, creatively and effectively engaged the students with comments about their chosen book characters, even spotting a few of her favorites and complimenting the students on their choices! She also mentioned how honored she and her husband, Mr. Gordon Martin who was also in attendance in support, felt to be allowed to install a special room there to help students maximize their potential!

There was more music as “It’s My Book” was sung by more than forty 2nd and 4th graders, in 3 rows, spanning the whole wide width of the gym! “It’s my book and where I go it goes! You will find me reading it, ‘til the cows come home! It’s my book and where I go it goes!”

Before introducing Superintendent Ayers, Principal Whisnant thanked all who contributed, including Tammy Cabe, who designed the room, and Mrs. Davis, the music teacher who put the musical components of the program together.

In her closing remarks, Dr. Ayers talked about the importance of reading and the opportunities the new room provides in a nice way for family and community to continue to support the students in their academic development. Her two shared quotes on reading brought it all home:

“So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books.”

This one is by Roald Dahl, from the film, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

And her last remark was this quote by Taylor Swift, “Books train your imagination to THINK BIG!”
The dignitaries and other guests were asked to leave the gym first and stand in the hall outside of the media center to await the Book Character Parade. Students then quietly marched single file (so all could appreciate the costume of the character they represented) from the gym past the media center to their respective classrooms starting with the youngest. Cats in hats, ninjas, superheroes, and other popular protagonists proudly paraded past the honored guests, carrying the related book in hand. “Fern” even carried “Charlotte’s” black web!

Once the halls were clear, all guests entered the media center where immediately on the left, a kid-height purple table in the shape of North Carolina caught their eyes! And the red balloon indicating Cullowhee Valley’s locale was balanced by the state capital on the east side in white.

The large scissors did the job while the superintendent and principal were left “holding the ribbon,” representing the “keys” that opened the room!
Room theme:
“Dive into reading because…reading opens an ocean of possibilities!”

In the wonderfully tangible depiction of an underwater paradise, the texture of the concrete block walls that had been painted a warm turquoise made the ambience even more realistic! And those walls were loaded with a myriad of sea creatures, and schools of fish (including Nemo’s!) …What better place for them than at a school! The decor was a very effective encouragement to all to “Dive into reading because…reading opens an ocean of possibilities!”

Ms. Tammy Cabe, the school’s media coordinator who designed the room, along with her sister and mother, personally glued all the wall appliqués so realistically, that visitors have to remember to breathe in and out because you really feel like you’re “under the waves” in a water wonderland!

The 2×4-foot fluorescent lights shine through fabric with sea creatures swimming, so if you think there’s a few turtles swimming above you…you’re right!

With books on display along the walls and even in the center of the room, no one has to go far to find an adventure! In keeping with the school populace, most of the shelving is about waist-high for an adult, providing easy access for the younger set. For the 7th and 8th graders, the shelves along one of the walls are tall and literarily loaded, but there’s still seashells, small sea critters and other nautical-themed artifacts interspersed amongst the sea-lections in keeping with the theme! There’s even a “books of the month bookcase of drawers” which has specially sea-lected stories in each pull out for each grade level with front covers showing, for easy sea-lection! And to top that, there’s a tall, clear, lighted cylinder on top of it, that somehow powers small jellyfish toys up and down in the water…who appear to be excited about reading! (If they could talk, they’d probably tell you they ARE INDEED EXCITED ABOUT READING!)

Meditation mats lead the list of fun, comfy seating to enhance chosen adventures!

Yes, the traditional table and stools are present, but as children entered the room, they dashed to the sub-shelf cubbies, oversized blue bean bag, and “Big Joe” stuffed armchairs! The stuffed blue whale is also a nice soft option to cozy up with as a student reads as well! Some might even find the octopus appealing as a reading buddy…but they might prefer the soft red lobster.

Special thanks to: Sponsors Mr. Gordon and Mrs. Cheri Martin, Superintendent Dr. Dana Ayer, Principal Holly Whisnant, Media Coordinator Tammy Cabe and the Think Big Reading Room committee members.

A little background on Cullowhee Valley:
“The present community (Cullowhee Valley) developed at the site of a historic Cherokee town, which was centered around the earthwork Cullowhee Mound. The name was long thought to mean “Valley of the Lilies.” In fact, it is derived from the Cherokee phrase joolth-cullah-wee, which translates as “Judacullah’s Place.”[7] Judacullah, a giant warrior and hunter who the Cherokee believe lived in the area, is an important figure in their religion and culture.”,_North_Carolina 


View photos from the event here!

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