Books Continue to Offer that Magic Carpet Ride

Posted on 09.25.13 – Insider, People & Places

Wolfsville Elementary School is set to become the first location in Frederick County for a Ben Carson Reading Room, a move designed to reinforce the importance of books and reading even as kids embrace all manner of new technology. Carson, a Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon with an international reputation, established a nonprofit in 1994 to award college scholarships to high-achieving students and six years later started the reading project. More than 90 reading rooms in 12 states have been established.

“We’re hoping to get more of an appreciation of free reading,” where students are captivated by books they chose rather than as an assignment, says Wolfsville Principal John Festerman. “The goal is to have a minimum of 500 books in the room in addition to our library, of course. They don’t check books out rather they read them right in the room.” He sees the space being used by students who may occasionally want to trade recess for a chance to read, or those who finish lunch early. A class or individual students will be able to use the room. “We hope it’s used all day, every day,” he says.

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Dr. Ben Carson, center, stands with Mike and Marlene Young, benefactors for Wolfsville Elementary School’s Ben Carson Reading Room.

Reading room benefactors are Mike and Marlene Young—she attended Wolfsville Elementary and says the school continues to have a place in her heart. The Youngs also have contributed to the Carson Scholarship Fund for the past six years and plan to continue their support.

“I was one of those bookworm kids,” says Young, vice president of Great Southern Enterprises and president of Delaplaine Foundation, Inc. “For me, reading was entertaining and enlightening. I would go to faraway places with reading … When we collect books, we collect friends. Nothing substitutes for being able to pick up a book.”

Wolfsville’s book nook is scheduled to open in November as part of American Education Week. Currently committees are working to select books, come up with an operating plan and select furnishings and room design, Festerman says.

“I think it would be ideal for other schools. We consider it an honor to be the first in Frederick County and are very appreciative of Mrs. Young.”

Amy Warner, executive director for Carson Scholars Fund, says, “Witnessing the impact of a Ben Carson Reading Room on a school is awe-inspiring.  On opening day when the ribbon is cut, the children are so excited.  It’s thrilling to watch their faces as they see the magnificent room for the first time.  Students race to the bookshelves to choose a new book then they are eager to find the perfect space to settle in and enjoy reading.  It’s rewarding to know that not only are the reading rooms the coolest place in the school; the rooms are also helping children become better students through self-directed leisure reading.”

Carson, who grew up in poverty but had a dream of becoming a physician, directed pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center for more than 25 years. He was named in 2001 by CNN and Time magazine as one of the nation’s 20 foremost physicians and scientists. That same year he was selected by the Library of Congress as one of 89 “Living Legends.” In addition to his nonprofit work, Carson is a motivational speaker, including at the President’s National Prayer Breakfast.