Camping out with a good book: East Coffee opens Dr. Ben Carson out-door themed reading room

  Staff Writer John Coffelt One of quotes East Coffee Elementary School Reading Interventionist Kim Watkins keeps close at hand is by Kate DiCamillo:   “Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift.” In keeping with that idea, East Coffee recently unveiled its own gift, a reading room that will foster recreational reading across the student body. Last Thursday, April 12, East Coffee opened the Dr. Ben Carson Reading room, with over 2,000 age-appropriate books. The project was funded through donations from the Deaver Phoenix Foundation and the Ben Carson Reading Project, a segment of the former presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon’s charity foundation. The room is extensively decorated in the outdoor theme, complete with kayak and faux campfires. It is one of only five in the state and one of 182 nationwide. “This has truly been one of my favorite projects that I’ve ever gotten to do,” Watkins said Thursday during a dedication assembly.  The director of The Deaver Phoenix Foundation, Mr. Shannon Kelley and Kelly Kelley of the Deaver Phoenix were in attendance, along with county mayor Gary Cordell and Director of Schools Dr. LaDonna McFall. “This has been a great process that has required a lot of helpers,” she told the assembly. The Deaver Phoenix Foundation contacted the school to offer it the opportunity to add a reading room. “It was a little scary at first. When you get offered X amount of dollars, you wonder what’s the catch,” Watkins told the Times. So principal Kelvin Shores and assistant principal Jimmy St. John when to Cowen Elementary to see its newly opened reading room. This was a major undertaking, Watkins said. Though a liaison with the Ben Carson Foundation, she discovered that certain funds would be earmarked for book, others for room décor, and other funds for the dedication assembly. Then came the hours of volunteer manpower by the community and even at times student who helped paint, craft and decorate the room. The project’s creativity expanded to include a woodland mural painted by Griffin Rone. Watkins came up with the camping motif. “There are some books that are also in the library, but this room is strictly for reading for pleasure. The library is for tests or research. The books here are for pleasure,” Watkins said. While the collection includes nonfiction, other titles include “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” “LEGO Ninjago,” Barbie books, things that might not be in the library collection. As the school’s Reading Interventionist, Watkins recognizes the importance of reading well. “Realistically, it’s the foundation of learning. If students don’t know how to read well, they struggle through all their assignments. We find it very important that all students are successful with reading,” she said. “We hope that the room will promote reading because it will be fun,” she added. “They’re excited about this. We’ve kept the doors closed. They don’t know what’s behind those doors, so the excitement will open the doors for the reading.” she said. During the assembly, the director of The Deaver Phoenix Foundation Shannon Kelley addressed the students, “We want to give special thanks to the administration and teachers, these reading rooms require so much work. “This is a very special reading room…We hope that you enjoy it that you use it and that it grows your love to read and keep that excitement going,” he said.