Cheers filled the balmy autumn air as one approached Burnet Elementary around 8:30 a.m. in Midland, TX! Burnet Elementary was the chosen host school for the celebration of the opening of five Ben Carson/ THINK BIG Reading Rooms in that city! The festivities began outside, with guest student participants from two local high schools, Midland and Legacy. The Midland High Drumline, as well as a squad of cheerleaders in uniformed colors from each of the high schools were out in full force, lining the walkway to the entrance, welcoming guests with their pompom salutes in time with the stirring, syncopated beats of the instruments!!
The “Fab Five” of the Midland Independent School District establishing the inspiring reading rooms are:
Santa Rita Elementary
(Please visit here for fun photos).
Burnet principal, Mrs. Julie Barraza, once served as principal of Henderson Elementary. Henderson Elementary has the significant distinction of being the first reading room to be established in the entire Permian Basin of Texas! But that’s not all!!! On 2-2-22, that school was the site of the 250th reading room opening! So today was not Principal Barraza’s first tango! As the host of her new school’s reading room opening celebration, as well as host of the site where the opening of the 273rd-277th reading rooms were celebrated, she was also a part of the opening of the 275th reading room in the history of the Carson Scholars Fund as well as her historic involvement with number 250 last year!!
-Program in the gymnatorium-
In her welcome, Principal Barraza stated, “it is with immense joy and gratitude that we announce our partnering with the Carson Scholars Fund, an organization whose mission resonates with many of the goals and objectives of the educational system.” She described the room as a:
- sanctuary of knowledge
- haven of exploration
- gateway to the endless treasures that can be found within the pages of books
She then related a story from her childhood, where as a preschooler, while her parents were taking care of business at a post office, she innocently occupied herself by creatively decorating the freshly painted walls with a red marker! The story served as an illustration of encouragement for each student to take advantage of opportunities when they arise… and to “make their mark”! A charge that she quickly followed with a word of caution to them, “but not on freshly painted walls!”
After introducing and welcoming honored guests, including Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Howard and the school board, she thanked the many who contributed to the special room’s development.
Fifth-grade multi-classroom Leader Adalina Torres-Borrego, who along with Principal Barraza was key in establishing that first reading room in Midland at Henderson, admonished the students in her remarks by sharing, “this room was designed especially for you to explore and discover the magic of reading! And it will help you develop skills to become lifelong learners… When you go into a Ben Carson reading room, it gives you ideas of what you can be in the future.”
The room’s theme was determined by a schoolwide student vote that yielded the theme of “Neverland” of Peter Pan fame magical place where not only your imagination can take flight…but you can soar to new heights too!
Next, Mrs. Carson spoke of the power of the brain, and how each one can guide their own future by being proactive when a subject seems difficult.
In the video message, Dr. Carson explained what a neurosurgeon does, and shared his interesting path to that goal, going from the bottom of his class to the top as a result of his mother’s reading program. He continued with how that inspired him and his wife to start putting in reading rooms around the country to help students develop themselves to be the best they can be.
In keeping with the theme of the room, once the entire fifth grade made their way to the front of the assembly, they spanned the whole width of the gymnatorium as they sang “I Can Fly,” accompanied by the Peter Pan movie soundtrack.
Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Stephanie Howard, came forward sharing more words of wisdom as she made a special book presentation.
As the program concluded, Ms. Torres-Borrego presented a gift to the reading room sponsors, Mr. Kyle & Mrs. Jamie Stallings.
In accordance with instructions, students quietly remained seated while guests made their way through the hallway to the reading room. The principal and several special guests were positioned between a wall outside the room where Peter Pan, Wendy and her brothers are flying and a wall with the truly appropriate Disney quote, “There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate loot on Treasure Island”!
Once the countdown from five was done and the ribbon was pulled away, awe-inspired gasps erupted!
All who enter are welcomed ashore by the sandy beach rug sporting a friendly starfish and a single frothy wave next to the pirate ship on the wall. As one continues past the pirate ship, an undersea paradise appears! The mural in shades of blue, was filled with all manner of marine flora in myriads of colors …..possibly hiding buried treasure!! (…thus reminding explorer-students of the treasure they can discover in each of the books they can pick!) Blue netting in various shades suspended in several levels from the ceiling, simulating waves, while mobiles of opalescent discs hung from above to encourage minds to bubble up with new ideas!
An illuminated teepee not far from the ‘beach’, adorned with a Native American headdress with blue feathers, offers another option for explorers to relax by themselves or in a group as they choose their next adventure! Huge, tufted pillows in solid colors make it a comfy haven!
Walls disguised as dense forests, the backdrop of lights strung through the trees behind a waist-high stone wall, are no longer walls that confine, but become walls that provide scenes of locations for ventures into the unknown! And in the midst of the scenery is the perfect place to view it all…a hammock (comfortable seating known to conform to the user’s needs) in blue and white stripes, to include a nautical feel!
Several students, dressed as the Neverland “hosts”, Peter, Wendy and Tinker Bell, made the whole experience even more engaging!
Exiting the room to allow others to enjoy, one could hear the cheerful sounds of the ‘Legacy High Mariachis’, situated just beyond the delectable display of treats! This newly formed group of high school students performed on the traditional trumpets, guitars, and violins, but they also had a guy on a full-sized harp as well as one on accordion! What an occasion to make their premiere performance!!
While all five Midland reading rooms opened simultaneously, we were excited to explore the Santa Rita Elementary and Emerson Elementary reading rooms.
Santa Rita Elementary
This space-themed room boldly proclaims on its principal mural, “Reading is out of this world!” The artistry also encouraged kids to ‘launch into a good book!’ Paintings also include shooting stars and space travelers peeking out of a porthole-space-vehicle shaped like a sharpened pencil, ready for action! One voyager reclines with a book in the curve of a moon crescent, but the one-eyed alien studying a book about earth as he pilots his UFO might have been breaking a space law by reading while driving! There’s even a neon rocket and a little light-up alien, projecting green and blue beams, sitting on a table! Moon rock pillows as well as rocket ones, and star-studded bean bags add to the coziness! The sky-blue balls (seating) with stabilizing feet populate the galaxy rug below the wall, looking like happy space critters, supporting readers by bouncing them into new ideas.
Utilizing the theme of ‘All things Texas’, this room showcases several cities and what they’re famous for (including the ocean), as well as various occupations that are prominent in the state. Oil rigs, a lone star, and a genuine cowhide rug are key points of interest here. However, the large square wooden table with a full-size saddle appears to “serve” the idea of actively supporting adventurers in whatever type of “ride” they choose to ensure their success!! Real logs form a campfire around which one can relax on soft log pillows, not far from a camping tent layered with cushions for comfort.
Historical symbols of Texas culture are also interspersed with corporate ones, like the green football gridiron rug paying homage to the successful teams of the state, as well as the silhouette of the little girl with a bucket leading a cow for Bluebell ice cream and the cute Buc-ee Beaver with his red cap! For those who are unfamiliar with this pervasive Texas phenomenon, Buc-ee’s is a chain of convenience stores with gas stations and electric vehicle chargers founded in 1982 by Arch “Beaver” Aplin III. The chain is known not only for the variety of goods and services, but also for their spotless restrooms.
To top things off, a glass door opens into a sizable, grassy courtyard with patio furniture, a hammock, a hanging chair and metal benches to provide even more space for students to broaden their horizons!
Written By Candy Carson