After all, the reading room paid for by the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland in collaboration with the Ben Carson Reading Project and filled with more than 700 new books is a shot in the arm in an area where reading scores need of improvement.
The reading area is one of 88 in the country, but the first one in Ohio. Carson, recently retired after a renowned career as Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon, and his wife, Candy, have focused their philanthropic efforts on improving reading and “encouraging young people to excel academically,” he said in a pre-recorded video address played before the opening of the reading room.
“With a book and your imagination, you can travel the world,” he said.
Sisters of Charity Foundation President Susanna Krey echoed that idea, noting that the foundation had Carson speak at its 15th anniversary in 2011, when the collaboration with the Reading Project was first announced.
“I'm delighted there are so many great books here for you,” she told the students. “As you travel through those books, new worlds will open to you.”
But once the important speeches, necessary thank-you’s and exuberant ribbon cutting ended and the brightly colored array of books, magazines and beanbag chairs was open for business, the young CMSD students got down to business and really put the “reading” into the room.
“That's what this is all about,” said Principal Stephanie Eafford, settling down on a beanbag chair where a half-dozen students were already reading. “We're so honored to have this at our school, where we know our students must increase their scores and where most of our students have some difficulties with reading.
“We’re hoping that Dr. Carson, whose mother had him read two books a week and do book reports on them, is the model for our students, that they would love to come to this beautiful place and increase in their reading abilities and become lifelong learners.”
After District Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon and representatives from the Sisters of Charity Foundation cut the ribbon, Gordon read aloud Maurice Sendak’s well-loved “Where the Wild Things Are” to a group of kids sprawled out in front of him and to parents, community partners and school officials standing in the back.
“This was my favorite book as a kid, and I hope you like it,” said Gordon who added his own facial expressions and shouts when called for during the classic children's story.
Gordon thanked the students “for making Carver a better and better school every day” and noted that one student in the auditorium had not stopped reading a book even during a half-dozen speeches before the ribbon cutting.
He also complimented teachers at Carver, noting that the hallways were lined with student artwork, essays and other materials related to Dr. Carson.
Gordon also thanked Sisters of Charity Foundation and other partners.
The reading room, originally announced in 2011 to be located in a Central neighborhood school, is part of an overall commitment to the area by the foundation. That commitment bolstered last month when the Ohio Department of Education awarded the foundation a $500,000 grant over the next two years.
The Sisters of Charity Foundation’s Cleveland Central Neighborhood Promise Initiative is “a transformative program that wraps children in high-quality, coordinated health, social, community and educational support from the cradle to college and career,” according to the foundation's website.
The Promise Neighborhood is part of Cleveland’s Ward 5, from Euclid Avenue to Woodland Avenue and from East 22nd Street to East 55th Street. It includes more than 10,000 people, including about 2,500 children under the age of 5. The stated vision of the initiative: All Central students go to college.
Gordon reminded everyone that transforming a school and a community is an active, not a static, thing.
“Partners, if this is your first time here, it cannot be your last,” he said. “We have to do this together. We will not achieve the goals we want, and that our children deserve, if we do not do this together.”