By Denise Gary
Photographs © Denise Gary and Elizabeth Gonzalez

Kids Need to Read partnered with Canyon State Academy to help present “Love of Reading,” a project beginning in February 2013 and culminating with graduation ceremonies in August 2013. Canyon State Academy is an incredible school located in Queen Creek, Arizona doing great things for troubled young men. Providing inspiring books to the school library, classrooms, and the middle school students, as well as contributing engaging presentations, it was an honor for Kids Need to Read to facilitate this literacy project as part of the Reading Revolution program.

In early February, Kids Need to Read provided students with their own copies of two book titles correlating to their black history studies, DK Biography: Martin Luther King, Jr. and The Watsons Go to Birmingham. In the middle of the month, I presented The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens and Paths to Peace: People Who Changed the World to the middle school students. It is always a pleasure to visit with teens, because this age is such a critical time in the life of children. Decisions are made that can influence success or failure for a lifetime. This is a core value of Reading Revolution and informs every step of the program. Books were given to all the middle school students to keep, but the most amazing moments came with the special needs students, who were so marvelously spontaneous and engaged! I enjoyed visiting with them so much!

Later in February, I headed back to the school with comic books for each of the students and superheroes from Project Hero, Justice League Arizona, and Arizona Avengers. I feel quite sure most of these young men have never encountered costumed heroes before! They were so eager to read the comics and listen to superheroes read to them. Although these students are teenagers, many have never had the good fortune of hearing stories read aloud during their childhood, so listening to adults read aloud is something they appear to treasure.

We had a truly fun-tastic Seussical celebration at Canyon State Academy in April. Green eggs and ham were served . . .

. . . while high school students read The Lorax to younger students . . .

. . . and then shared excellent information about preparing for college.

Principal Elizabeth Gonzalez dressed the part and fried the ham.

Of course, KNTR provided copies of The Lorax for each student to keep . . . and I could not pass up an opportunity to talk about “caring.”

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
–Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

The “work” of Kids Need to Read is always a joy, but there are tiny moments that rock me into the stratosphere. At the end of The Lorax presentation, the students were told we were going to bring a bunch of library books to them. A sixth grade boy raised his hand and asked, “Do you have a book about Harry Houdini?” I replied, “I will get a book about Harry Houdini for you, I promise.” When class was over, he came up to me to give me thanks and a big hug. This may seem like a small thing, but it was such a wonder to me to think that a single book could mean so much to a young man. I have always had access to as many books as I ever wanted to read, but many of these boys have never been read a story nor owned a book prior to attending this school. So, let me introduce you to “Mr. Magician,” a great man of the future. I am sure Mr. Magician never thought he would see me again, not to mention with his book request in hand. To his shock, he was called into the office weeks later to find me delivering a MOST AWESOME book about The Great Houdini right into his hands (Harry Houdini: A Photographic Story of a Life).

As one of the teachers told me, the boys are not accustomed to receiving anything. It was such a privilege to be able to provide a book of such great interest to this young man on behalf of Kids Need to Read and the folks who provide us with such enthusiastic support. I hope all of you feel equally as honored.

My brain is the key that sets my mind free. –Harry Houdini

We kept our promise to the students, not only delivering 300 class sets of books to the school but boxes of library books, as well. It is no exaggeration to say their library is nearly empty. They could use a lot more book donations.

You know our kids love to read and we so appreciate your support in our literacy movement here! –Elizabeth Gonzalez, Principal, Canyon State Academy

I was thrilled to be invited to Cinco de Mayo festivities at the campus, featuring a group of Folklorico dancers who only perform for Canyon State Academy students, infusing their stories and dancing with uplifting messages.

It was a joyful celebration of culture!

Even some of the students participated in the dancing.

In August, I had the good fortune to attend the graduation ceremony of the Canyon State Academy students. It is so great to see these students uplifted by the school’s program, ready to go forth to meet their destinies with a positive outlook. I love this quote featured in their ceremony program:

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. –T. S. Eliot

Author/poet Gary Soto was the keynote speaker. He presented each graduate with a signed book.

After the graduation ceremony, the students in the culinary program served one of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten—I kid you not! I wanted so badly to ask the chef for recipes! I managed to keep myself in check though.

The Love of Reading project was great fun and very inspiring. We are glad Kids Need to Read could be part of the life journey of these fine young men, and hopefully they will carry with them the knowledge that there are people who believe in them and the endless possibilities of their futures.

YOU ARE SUCH A BLESSING! Thank you from the bottom of our hearts! –Elizabeth Gonzalez, Principal, Canyon State Academy

Photo Gallery: Canyon State Academy: Love of Reading Project
Reading Revolution Program Information

Reading Revolution Funding Partners

American Woodmark Foundation
Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation
Avnet Contributions Council
Cardinals Charities
Employees Community Fund of Boeing Arizona
Fry’s Fund
John F. Long Foundation
National Home Library Foundation
Otto & Edna Neely Foundation
Walmart Foundation
Weyerhaeuser Giving Fund

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