The 265th Ben Carson Reading Room in the country was installed at Ensley Elementary School of Pensacola, located in the panhandle of Florida. It is the first Ben Carson THINK BIG Reading Room in the entire county of Escambia!
As you enter the school, before you get to the office and underneath a US flag mounted on the wall is the encouraging sign, “Wildly Outstanding Wildcats!” to help kids believe in their own potential, and a way you can reach it in a free country! As you continue down the main hall, on the left is a great motivating tool, the “Student of the Month” bulletin board, celebrating the achievements of a girl and a boy! However, on the wall across from it is artwork of another interesting sight! …A patriotic framed photo of a waving flag, proclaiming “In God We Trust!” At the bottom of the photo is the actual date this “National motto of the United States” was adopted by Congress, July 30, 1956!
The exciting program was live streamed to provide the opportunity for the entire school as well as parents to watch, and is available online at:
-Starts at 5:00 minutes and lasts for about an hour
-Ends at 1:06:18
-Ribbon Cutting Ceremony starts at 1:13:40 and lasts about 10 minutes
Principal Rhonda Shuford not only introduced herself and stated it was her honor to welcome everyone to the grand opening of the Ben Carson Reading Room, she also introduced and acknowledged more than 15 key elected and appointed officials from the county and state governments. She continued, “This week across the state of Florida “, we are celebrating Literacy Week.” and we are “doing it in grand style by opening the Ben Carson Reading Room!”
All was quiet as with practiced military precision, the JROTC from nearby Washington High School, marched in and stood in front of the stage to present the colors. Of course, all were standing at attention as the National Anthem touched hearts when it was sung by music teacher Melissa Hawkes; and another ROTC cadet on the podium capably led the assembly in the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Dream Big”, a poem composed by teacher Susannah Wright, was recited from memory by nine of her students in turn, wearing red, white, or navy shirts over khaki bottoms. “I have a big dream in a book in my hand…off I go to a faraway land!” “I read about heroes and what they can do…maybe one day I could be a hero too!”
The volume was turned up as several more students in bold green tees and sunglasses bopped to the beat with “determined attitude” to the front of the stage, to present the Reading Rap song written by their teacher Cynthia Morrisette. The rap ensemble performed snake moves in between bops and waved their books above their heads as they chanted the refrain “Yeah, we love reading books!”
The THINK BIG acrostic, a key motivating tool of the reading room program, was next, presented by 5th grade students, describing what each letter represents.
Once the large screen was lowered in front of the students on stage, Dr. Ben Carson introduced himself and summarized the work of a pediatric neurosurgeon. He continued with how he and his wife co-founded the Carson Scholars Fund, recognizing the importance of a good education. He said they have dedicated themselves to “encouraging young people to excel academically, explore new horizons through reading, and to develop their talents to help their fellow man. ” When he spoke of his less than stellar academic career as an elementary student, he admonished the students not to develop a victim’s mentality but to remember that the person who has the most to do with what happens to you….is you! You can make the decision to do what it takes to be successful just like he did. Through reading he “gained knowledge, confidence, and the desire to be successful in school and in life.” He ended with a challenge to the kids to do their very best and to read every day.
4th-grader Elaina Nguyen was then called to the stage and gave one of the most enthusiastic introductions this writer has ever heard. Her intro was for fellow student Jason Proctor to share “What Martin Luther King Would Say if He Were Here Today”, an original message composed by teacher Cynthia Morrisette. This young man in his black suit, white shirt and diagonal striped tie, in Martin Luther King style, recited the entire stirring message from memory. And if you closed your eyes and listened, if it weren’t for the difference in voice pitch, you would have thought that MLK had been resurrected and was right there in the room! Small wonder that the applause at the conclusion of his presentation quickly became a standing ovation!
As Jessica McMillan, State Regional Literacy Director for Just Read, Florida – Florida Department of Education sang and touched hearts with another stirring song, “The Greatest Love of All”, teacher Cynthia Morrisette sang harmony. They were accompanied by several students from Ms. Morrisette’s class, waving flags of several countries, including Brazil, the Netherlands and Norway.
Sponsor, Bill Fleming, former president of Palm Beach Atlantic University, expressed what a joy it was to be a part of this great investment in the students of Ensley. His hope is that this special day will be a catalyst for future reading rooms to follow in Escambia County, because “Minds will be enlightened through the use of the Ben Carson Reading Room.” Continuing with a summary of the process in getting the reading room approved and installed, he shared that he and his wife Pam had full confidence in the school choice and implementation, thanking all involved. He also expressed their appreciation for the team completing the project so quickly! Lastly, the program was so well done, it far exceeded their expectations! Three quotes were then cited:
He felt that the reading room could also be described as a “dream center” where reading and exploration of words will enable these students and future generations of students to dream and cast those dreams into the future! His benediction: “May your futures be prosperous, and may God continue to bless this school, the parents, the teachers and the students!”
When Mrs. Carson came to the podium, her first words were words of gratitude. She thanked the educators, community supporters and sponsors who made it possible for the children to have a special place to develop themselves to be the best they can be. She shared stories about the power of the brain and how each person can control their destiny by learning as much as they can. Other learning strategies were shared, but the prevailing and most important one is reading. Reading exercises the brain, which has an enormously huge capacity. Reading opens the mind to new worlds and enables the learner to expand horizons. She closed with the charge to the students to read, read, read and to thank the people that made the special room possible.
Media specialist, Mrs. Mary Alonzo, in her closing remarks thanked all for coming to celebrate the special day. She stated that the students will forever remember how we were all united for literacy, and that reading and thinking big like Dr. Carson will help them succeed. She then announced a special thank you presentation by fifth graders to Mrs. Carson and the Flemings. The floral bouquets and “The Giving Tree” book to the Flemings and Mrs. Carson were gratefully received.
As a finale, the song used to close out the program was chosen to show how the students feel about the new reading room! Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” resounded throughout the gymnatorium as the patient students who had been on stage throughout the program got their chance to shine! They joyfully sang and signed happy motions to the ‘Happy’ music accompaniment!
Mrs. Alonzo welcomed the special guests to the ribbon cutting ceremony and invited them to share remarks.
District Four School Board Member, Ms. Patty Hightower said it was an awesome day and complimented the students on what an amazing job they did during the program…”the teachers and parents will be very proud of you!” This project provides a wonderful opportunity for the children to read, she continued, and that she liked to read too! She said she couldn’t thank the Flemings enough, the organizers enough, Principal Shuford enough!
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Steve Marcanio came forward and spoke to the students, bringing to their attention how this was a collaborative effort, many people worked hard…working together to get all the details in place to make something great!! “This is something your teachers are trying to get you to do as well, learn the cooperative, collaboration skills needed to work together for success.” He thanked everyone too.
Superintendent Dr. Timothy Smith thanked Principal Shuford and the board for all they do, and Mrs. Carson and her husband for the project and for what they do around the country. He also thanked the Flemings for their generosity, support and their advocacy for the students of Ensley Elementary. His final appreciation was for them blazing the trail for more schools to have reading rooms!
Escambia County District 3 Commissioner and Chairman Lumon May thanked the Carsons, mentioning one the books that inspired him in junior college was Gifted Hands. He also thanked the Flemings for moving to the area and for their philanthropy; Principal Shuford, the superintendent, school board, and for them all working together to invest in the children, our future…saying Jason (the MLK speaker) was his hero!
Theme: Hot Air Balloons
Consider this: Hot air balloons rise to the occasion…literally and literature-ly! They take thoughts and imaginations upward, as far as the eye can see! …and possibly even farther than the eye can see? They come in all colors…are no respecters of differences…they’ll take ANYBODY AND EVERYBODY who is willing to rise with them to the occasion! (With that concept, so can a book!!). A view from a hot air balloon is a totally different perspective…the type of thing all human beings should be open to! New perspectives produce new thoughts…and new ideas…and new innovations!!!
Ensley Elementary educators decided the best place to put the room…is the library! About 1/6 of the school’s book depository is dedicated to the new project.
Of course, the reading room section is painted sky blue! The ceiling of the reading room provides a perfect backdrop for the plethora of colorful balloons populating the “sky”, with each of the fluorescent lights beaming through a stained-glass-type cloud-filled insert with sky blue peeking around the clouds! The balloons are not alone in the “sky” as tiny twinkling lights shed extra light on any ideas that arise in this imagination/motivation center!”
One wall is a chest-high bookcase, teeming with books and “reading buddies” (stuffed animals or stuffed characters from the stories) who are also depicted in the sky wall mural! Snoopy, wearing his “flying ace” goggles, flies his red aircraft, skywriting the letters identifying the room above a picture-collection of hot air balloons! Below that is a white cloud-shelf holding more pages of discovery! One hot air balloon on the wall is a Thomas Edison lightbulb…invention ideas anyone?
Twin bookcase towers with rotating shelves shaped like propellers, seek to propel adventurers to new heights of knowledge and understanding! They stand like guards, to create the sense of a protective entrance gate that you can pass through to discover new places…
Half of the room has solid primary-color ottomans, some cylindrical and others that look like smiles for students to station themselves for an out-of-this-world journey! And a smiley one and circular one can fit together in case two readers want to collaborate!
Another section of the room has a gray circular papasan chair with white toss pillows shaped like clouds! Gaming chairs, scoop seats, a round rug of the sky with white clouds create quite an uplifting atmosphere…literally and figuratively!
Even the square accent pillows on the group-capacity futon encourage: “Read more books”, “Just one more chapter”, “Between the pages of a book is a lovely place to be!”
Special thanks to:
Bill and Pam Fleming
Dr. Ben and Mrs. Candy Carson
Carson Scholars Fund
Escambia Public Schools
Dr. Timothy A. Smith Superintendent
Lisa Marsh, ELA Department
Dr. Everette, ELA Department
Michelle White, Media Services
Dylan Nadsady, Muralist
Rhonda Shuford, Principal
Keith Wasdin, Facilities Planning
Mike Barnes, Facilities Planning
Ms. Alonzo, Ensley Media Specialist
Reading Room Committees
Extra Special Thanks -Ben Carson Program Participation
CDR Le’Keen Brown -Booker T. Washington High School NJROTC Color Guard
Jessica McMillian–Florida Department of Education
Students at Ensley Elementary will begin reading to new heights thanks to a partnership with the Ben Carson Reading Room Project.
On Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, The Escambia County School Board approved a contract for the first Ben Carson Reading Room to be developed at Ensley Elementary School.
On Tuesday, Jan. 24, students, school and district staff, community partners and special guests celebrated the opening of the reading room at the elementary school…. Continue Reading Here