The gift of reading

Published 9:59 pm Friday, September 2, 2011

Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley made a visit to Huxford Elementary on Wednesday.|Photo by Blake Bell

Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley paid a special visit to the Huxford community Wednesday, and she did not come empty-handed.

Throngs of anxious students at Huxford Elementary School welcomed Bentley Wednesday afternoon as she arrived with 100 Scholastic books in tow for donation to the school’s classrooms.

The donation was not the only contribution Mrs. Bentley has made recently to Alabama schools. Huxford Elementary School, she explained, was her last stop on a five-school tour of institutions in different areas around the state, each of which received a donation of 100 books.

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Bentley said each school was handpicked to receive the books, which she collected as part of a Scholastic reading program.

“Scholastic is a national education program,” she said. “And they came to us last spring and said that they would like to donate books to us to be used and they said they had 500.”

Bentley said instead of distributing the books to one place or spreading them out sparsely throughout the state she decided to donate them to a handful of schools in need.

“We have so many needy schools in Alabama,” she said. “I said rather than give one school 500, why don’t we divide it up into five different needy schools.”

Bentley said she first became aware of HES while attending a luncheon for the Torchbearer program, which honored Huxford Elementary in 2010 for high-performance from a school in a high-poverty area.

“I was just so impressed with schools that had high free lunch, they were in a poverty area, but yet there were excelling on scores,” she said. “I just thought, you know, so many people tell us what’s wrong and what needs to be done, but this just shows that you take a child, you believe in him and they can do well.”

Aside from delivering new books, Mrs. Bentley also spent time at HES explaining her role within the state of Alabama to students, answering questions and later taking the time to read a favorite book, Alabama author Faye Gibbons’ “Emma Jo’s Song,” aloud to the children.

Following the assembly Mrs. Bentley said she had enjoyed her time with the Huxford students and looks forward to continuing the Scholastic program in the future.

“I just loved it,” she said. “I just love kids and they’re so sweet.”

Mrs. Bentley added in the years to come she hopes to reach out to even more Alabama schools facing hardships such as the tornadoes that swept the state in April.

“We got these books in the spring which was before the tornadoes,” she said. “With the tornado damage we didn’t get them out in the spring. This was last year’s books that we’re just now getting out.”

She added those schools repairing, or in some cases rebuilding, in the wake of the storms are next on her list for donations.

“I’d like to give it to some of the schools that had tornado damage.”

Before heading back to Montgomery Mrs. Bentley was presented with several tokens of appreciation from HES students including a Huxford t-shirt and a homemade card in the shape of the state of Alabama. HES principal Donna Silcox said the First Lady’s visit meant a lot to both her faculty and the students.

“It was an honor and privilege for our school to be chosen as one of the five schools chosen by Mrs. Bentley to visit,” Silcox said. “Our students were excited and felt very important that she took the time to come and visit with them and let them ask questions and read them a book.”