Reading can open a world of joy and imagination for students, and one North Carolina principal wanted to spread that moment of happiness to them on a special day -- their birthdays.
Glenn Cook, principal of Pleasant Ridge Elementary in Gastonia, North Carolina, came up with the idea to gift each student with a book on their birthday. With about 900 students attending Pleasant Ridge, this is no easy task, but Cook says he’s ready to "go big or go home."
"I don’t have a lot of kids books," said Cook. "So I put it out on Facebook, I wanted to see if any of my friends had any books that they needed to clean off their bookshelves at home and it kind of spiraled from there."
His original goal for this project was small in comparison to his student body.
"I was hoping to get maybe 50 books to kick off the first round of birthdays," Cook remembered.
The amount of feedback Cook received was phenomenal.
"We’re probably sitting at 450 maybe 500 books," he said. There are stacks of books occupying space all over his office.
The idea started when Cook attended a professional development event. He was seeking to improve his interaction with his students and asked another principal for advice. This principal informed him that at her school, she gifts her students with a pencil on their birthday.
He wanted to take this idea to the next level, so he began reading himself. After Karen Schieres, a teacher at Pleasant Ridge, sent Cook an article about ways to improve the reading culture at his school, he came up with the idea that a principal should share their excitement and love for reading -- and even carry a book everywhere they go.
The goal of gifting these books to students is to find a book that’s right for each one.
"I had a child that didn’t start [reading] until he found something that he liked" Schieres recalled.
For first-grader Lily Helms, reading is an outlet for her. "I like to use my imagination," she said. She likes books that push her to dream big such as the "Sparkly New Friends" series.
Second-grader Worth Helms told "Good Morning America," "I like books with more pictures [than words]."
Local businesses have chipped in to donate books. Michelle Clear, a parent at Pleasant Ridge and salon manager at Great Clips, decided to offer her store as a central location for book drop-offs.
"Reading just opens up so many avenues in [kids’] lives," Clear noted. "Hopefully this will get across the nation to please donate to your local schools."
This initiative hits home especially for Kathryn Thomas, a kindergarten teacher at Pleasant Ridge. She attended school within the Gaston County School system throughout grade school.
"My parents were very poor, we didn’t have books in our home," Thomas confessed. "To have a book that is theirs that the principal gave them will mean the world to them."
Kids with summer birthdays, don’t despair. Cook is a summer baby himself and plans to include them in this project. Students with birthdays in August will receive their books at the beginning of the school year, while those born in June and July will be celebrated in the Spring.
"I want to make sure there’s not one single kid that’s going under the radar, I want to make sure that I’m actually saying hey to every kid, talking to every kid, celebrating every kid," said Cook. "I’m never going to stop collecting books."