The 266th Ben Carson Reading Room was installed at Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, a patriotic school with an eagle as its mascot. Before you reach the entrance there are red, white and blue silhouettes of eagles on the concrete walkway to guide you to the building!
The gymnatorium was abuzz with excitement as students, educators and special guests speculated about the special room! But all murmuring came to an abrupt halt when the thunder of the Eagles Drum Circle, composed of 13 first through fifth graders playing on beautifully painted African hand drums, filled the room! After a few seconds the group paused, and then continued with precise rhythms in unison. Directed by music teacher Natalie Jackson, they concluded their concentrated efforts by executing a perfectly choreographed bow!
As the seated drummers stood and exited stage left with their instruments and stools, nine standing student violinists came into sight. With only four months of classes and led by Ms. Polozhenko, the students played open strings in excellent form, with a lovely accompaniment.
During her welcome, Principal Debbie Battles expressed her excitement about their literacy week ending in such a celebratory manner with the opening of the special reading room.
Next, the Pledge of Allegiance was uniquely led by the entire fourth grade (around 40 students!) What was really unique is that they did it verbally AND with American Sign Language! The principal then noted that the fourth graders would actually miss the opening because the group would be leaving the school for a field trip to the Kravitz Center, the primary performing arts center for the area.
Special guests were then introduced from the podium and on the large screen on stage. Several brought special remarks:
Maria Bishop, North Region Instructional Superintendent and a regular visitor to the school, admitted to her curiosity about how the finished room would look. She also announced that the school had been granted the opportunity to expand to a K-8 school, adding one grade per year for the next several years!
When Palm Beach County (PBC) School District Superintendent Michael Burke came to the podium, he added that the builders had the foresight to include extra space in the edifice, in case there was a need for expansion. It was no small victory for the grant to come through! He went on to thank “one of his bosses,” PBC board member Barbara McQuinn, for coming and supporting the effort, having her stand and wave, and continued with gratitude to BallenIsles Charities Foundation for their generous sponsorship. When he spoke of Principal Battles and her journey to that position, it was very complementary. He shared, “she always does what’s best for the students.” As a leader, she sets the example, and everyone at the school follows. His example: On one of his visits, the custodian had him help clean a classroom, and he admitted he “was exhausted” after helping with just that one! And the custodian team led by Ms. Minnie cleans around 80 classrooms and offices, as well as many common spaces and hallways each day! The grant would allow for 10-12 more to be completed! He said he couldn’t reveal the theme of the room, but his hint that it was about “bringing the outdoors…indoors” certainly got imaginations running wild! His ‘take home’ was “reading is the path to all knowledge.”
Although Jody Passov, vice president of BallenIsles Charities Foundation, was slated to speak next, she passed the baton to the president of the organization who was also in attendance, Mark Freeman. “Advancing reading is so important,” he said as he shared that this room is the sixth reading room the foundation has sponsored. He then introduced the executive board members along with their positions, demonstrating how important this project is to his organization!
“Reading forces the mind to think and conceptualize…doors of the world open up those who read… BallenIsles Charities believes children who use the room will excel in school…and beyond!”
Teachers of Tomorrow Club members, Kathryn Tenn Yuk and Sarah Romero, then shared a poem entitled “Open a Book” with help from their kindergarten buddies, Charlotte Neto and Adriel Lightner.
Charlotte and Adriel recited the poem and had cute choreography at the end!
Mrs. Carson thanked all who made the room possible and spoke of the power of the brain as she had heard her husband mention during his talks as a speaker. Speaking of how each person is the one most responsible for their success, she shared how subjects are based on building blocks and how a student can navigate educational challenges successfully. “We put in the reading room to help you become the best you can be! So read, read, read and don’t forget to thank those who worked hard to install it for you!!”
The large screen on stage came to life when Dr. Carson addressed the assembly via video. Starting with what a privilege it was to work as a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins and an explanation of what neurosurgeons do, he shared his incredible journey to that hospital from his status at the bottom of the class in elementary school! Once he discovered that the key to success is reading, he didn’t turn back! He said, “when you realize you don’t have to be a victim…you don’t have to be manipulated by other people… It was very liberating for me!” Because of his own story, the Carson Scholars Fund installs reading rooms in schools and other kid-focused centers to help other students achieve success like he did. He stated, “The room is designed to fuel your dreams and inspire your imagination!”
In conclusion, he challenged each one “to read every day and to always THINK BIG!”
In Assistant Principal Maureen Grosvenor’s final reflection, she extended gratitude to all, and called up several students to present special gifts of flowers and a framed photo collage of the reading room to the sponsors from BallenIsles Charities Foundation.
Note: ASL Interpretation was executed by Marcia McTyre and Fern Quillen
“Bringing the outdoors, indoors.”
On your left as you enter the room is a carpet of blue water, with a canoe-shaped pillow (complete with an oar and parked by pillows that look like large stones!) for kids to cozy in and cruise along, taking any trip they can dream up, with a book! A smaller rowboat is situated just close enough for a dreamer to reach for another adventure when they’re ready! Behind the rowboat on the wall is a 3-D printed mural of a 3-story waterfall. And next to the waterfall is a tree-colored bookcase filled with more “imagination stimulators!”
Proceeding from there is a wood plank pathway on the floor to a campground with tents sporting sparkling lights at each end on the grass carpet. The campfire between them is composed of soft pillows as well, and has soft pillow-sticks with marshmallows on the end for kids to “roast” as they ponder their next book choice. Embracing the scene are more 3-D printed images…forests this time…of course! A log lamp with a bear carving perched on a stump sits between two folding bear-chairs and more comfy seating is provided by mushroom ottomans. Note the little owl “reading buddy” on the stump next to the lamp, waiting to share a good story!
The tree in the corner is hand-painted on the wall. As your eyes climb the tree, the shelves on the wall hold more adventures for the children to choose! The cardinal’s home is on the rear wall and one can listen to the soft sounds of his family and other birds chirping as they “fly overhead.”
Below the windows almost a whole wall of woodgrain-fronted bins of books await an eager reader.
The next corner’s padded bench seat has log pillows and a twin tree in the corner…this time with an eagle (the school mascot) on the top shelf.
Centered in the room is a round wooden picnic table with a thatch umbrella and curving benches to encourage fun dining on new knowledge.
A 3-D printed tree of knowledge mural boasts local fauna, including a photo of one of the favorite turtles that lives on the school grounds. Several protected species have made their home there on the school campus, having created 18 burrows! Science classes are much more fun with the “real thing” right on site! (In the lobby there are 3 aquarium tanks!)
Kid-sized wood-grain stools, green metal butterfly benches, camouflage beanbag chairs, a wooden tree loaded with reading buddies (stuffed animals), blue “scoop chairs” on the “water”, tree-branch-angled bookcases, and even more wood grain traditional bookcases round out the room, making this another special haven of development for kids!
Thank you to:
Safety Patrol Greeters
Natalie Jackson and her Drumming Club
DD Eisenhower PTO
Divine Muralists DDE Team Leaders
Brooke Marquez | Anthony Cruz
Karen Parilla | Martha Parilla
Minnie Grimes – Custodial Foreperson
Alicia DeCalvacanti – After School Programming Director
Daniela Whiteside – Media Specialist
Sarah Weis – School Treasurer
Christian Marchica – Crisis Intervention Teacher
And thanks to the 3-D muralists Carlton and Megan Jones who donated their time as well as the hand-painting muralist, Renata McInnis, who also donated her time.