From left, Jackson Alternative School teacher Debbie Lollie reads to student Zykevia Campbell, while upperclassmen Wesley Weston and Madison Willis read on their own. Weston is also cuddled up with one of the Ben Carson Reading Room creatures, a gorilla named “Choco.”
An anonymous local couple gave $15,000 to establish the Ben Carson Reading Room at Jackson Alternative School and, on Thursday, students and their significant adults celebrated its grand opening as the first center of its kind in the state of Florida.
The ceremony included a video presentation by Dr. Ben Carson, who founded the Carson Scholars Fund and the Ben Carson Reading Project initiative which will support the reading room with resources and ongoing information. A world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon and bestselling author of the books “Gifted Hands,”“Think Big,” “The Big Picture” and “Take the Risk,” Carson and wife Candy established their foundations in 1994 and have since lent their name and support to more than
According to a Carson booklet explaining the projects, they are meant “to encourage independent leisure reading and to provide a friendly atmosphere within the school where students, faculty and the community can come together to enjoy reading. The goal is to combat illiteracy and to promote leisure reading as a key to unlocking a child’s full potential.”
In the video presentation, Carson talked directly to the children of Jackson Alternative School, mentioning their school by name and, in a soft-spoken but enthusiastic presentation, he talked gently to them about how reading can open their minds and hearts to all possibilities and potential. He talked briefly of his childhood poverty and how reading made him see that he could overcome it and do anything he wanted in life. Becoming an avid reader, he said, is what helped him achieve his goals in life despite that challenge. Learning to read took him from being the worst student in his class to its top performer.
Because Carson’s primary goal is to make reading fun and therefore attractive to children, and in hope that reading for pleasure will become a lifelong pursuit, teachers are forbidden from tying the reading room to the curriculum. The idea there, one school official indicated, is to prevent tension building in a child in association with the reading room.
The donor who gave the money for the project said Thursday said that he and his wife decided to take action after they began supporting JAS and learned during their service that JAS didn’t have a library. That was a circumstance that shocked and spurred them to give the money it would take to create a reading room. The books can’t be checked out, but students will be given opportunities to read on-site during their school day. The details of how that will work over the long term are not yet ironed out, but all students will have an immediate opportunity to visit it.
The room does not have television or computers, and students can’t use their mobile devices while they’re inside. That is by design, school officials say, and in keeping with Carson’s philosophy about the importance of holding and reading physical books.
The donating couple’s money outfitted a portable on the campus with more than 700 books, along with jungle-themed appointments.
The theme and the books were selected from a special scholastic list and the choices were based on student polls and teachers’ knowledge of what the young people are most interested in. Every book that the children tagged was purchased, one official said, with the remainder selected after those were place on the order.
JAS Principal Phyllis Daniels, Jackson County School Board member Stacey Goodson, Jackson County Deputy Superintendent of Schools Cheryl McDaniel and JAS Assistant Principal Rex Suggs spoke of the importance and joy of reading, and of their appreciation of the gift that made the reading room possible.
During the opening ceremony, a group of students brought in large cards with a single letter on each, which together spelling out ‘Think Big,’ Dr. Ben Carson’s theme for this reading room and the roughly 100 others like it across the country.