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March 21, 2014

‘We feed our minds with literacy’

First Lady Jane Beshear visits Williamsburg Independent School

CORBIN — By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer

For nearly two hours Thursday afternoon, First Lady Jane Beshear captivated her audience at Williamsburg Independent School.

She came to visit the school as part of her stops across the state during Kentucky Literacy Celebration Week, which began Monday and ends Friday.

The celebration encourages students on the joys of reading, the importance of improving their reading skills and to broaden their horizons to a world of knowledge that always awaits them throughout their lives.

But towards the end of her visit with 27 students and several teachers, she needed some help herself.

The students in Josh Patrick’s fourth-grade class offered Beshear a book to read — “Skippyjon Jones.”

Written by Judith Byron Schachner, the children’s book is a story about a mischievous Siamese kitten who transforms himself into Skippito, the legendary Spanish sword fighter.

And while the First Lady told the students she’s an avid reader, Beshear readily admitted she has some problems with some Spanish words.

She asked for help from the students.

Two of them quickly came to the rescue.

Fourth-grader Hayden Minton read for Beshear and the audience. But he, too, had some difficulty pronouncing some of the Spanish words.

Zach Culver, an Advanced Placement student in Maria Harrison’s senior class, was right beside him and the First Lady. He worked with Minton on the harder Spanish pronunciations.

As a result, the problems were solved.

It made for a very entertaining moment. And a lesson to learn.

“My point is, there’s always something you don’t know. I loved the senior helping the fourth-grader. That was great. As a result, the fourth-grader got more confident with his reading. I learned from it, too. It’s a lesson that we, ourselves, are always learning,” Beshear said after the program.

A former teacher herself, Kentucky’s First Lady — the wife of Governor Steve Beshear — arrived at the school a few minutes before 12:57 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the official start of spring.

After being greeted by Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison, Whitley County Judge-Executive Pat White Jr. and several school personnel, Mrs. Beshear went inside the new addition of the school and was warmly welcomed by high school students who were watching from the second floor.

She went upstairs to Mrs. Harrison’s classroom and thanked students and staff for inviting her to their school. That followed with a conversation about the state’s literacy celebration, now in its fourth year.

“This is exciting for me. …I visit schools across the state and talk about how important it is to improve our literacy. Literacy is one of those things that whatever you do, it’s important. The more we read, the smarter we get, and our reading skills improve. Literacy is about reading, and understanding, or comprehending what we read. The more you read, the more you find out things that you want to read, and the smarter you get. And, you read for fun, too,” Beshear said in the classroom.

Proof of that came moments later, when three of Mr. Patrick’s fourth-grade students read excerpts to her from the children’s book, “The Whipping Boy,” by Sid Fleischman.

Starting with Jackson Leskin, followed by Ethan Keene, and finished by Annabelle Jones, the three students gave the First Lady and the audience a brief glimpse of an orphan named Jemmy, and a royal heir named Prince Brat.

“I think I’m gong to have to find the book and read the end,” Beshear said after the students finished.

“I was rather nervous, because I was reading to somebody important. But I did good. And I feel good now,” Leskin said after the program.

Keene added, “I was nervous. But it was an honor to read in front of her.”

“It was really fun because I’ve really never read to someone important before. A little nervous, but I came through in the end,” noted Jones.

At one point, Beshear looked at the room full of students and some adults, and asked them, “Is there some country in the world you’d like to visit?”

Minton raised his hand and said, “Italy. It seems like a fun place. It’s got pasta.”

“It’s got art, and tremendous history. Can you go there?” replied the First Lady.

Minton answered, “Not right now, but I can go online and read about it.”

Afterwards, he said, “When I read, it takes me a whole bunch of places. Reading takes me to every place I’ve wanted to go. To France, to Mexico, to Japan, to Canada, and to places in Kentucky I’ve never been. As for Italy, pizza’s my favorite, but I like pasta, too.”

Two other students spoke up on where they wanted to go.

One said, “Chicago, so I can visit Michael Jordan.”

Another mentioned, “Florida, because it’s quite warm there.”

“If you can’t afford going there, read about it. Find out about people. Find out about places,” Beshear told them.

One adult also talked about finding out about people.

In this case, Mayor Harrison admitted he read “Killing Lincoln,” written by author, journalist and commentator Bill O’Reilly.

“It put me into every little detail about Abraham Lincoln’s life, before he was murdered. I love history. And as everybody knows, Lincoln was from where?” Harrison noted as he looked around the classroom.

“Kentucky!” answered the students.

“There you go,” he said.

She told them about her own reading habits, noting she loves to read in classrooms, and to have students read to her. The First Lady also listens to audio books when she travels, but confessed, “I hope I don’t disturb anyone during the trip.”

Beshear is currently reading “The Book Thief,” a novel by Australian writer Markus Zusak.

She explained to students that she’s a slow reader, with good reason.

“Whenever I read a book, I think of it as a movie in my mind. And I slow down, because I don’t want to miss a thing. That’s how I comprehend,” Beshear stated.

And she mentioned reading the children’s books of British author Roald Dahl, who’s works included “James and the Giant Peach,” “Matilda” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

There’s a Tri-County connection to Dahl — he married actress Patricia Neal, who played in movies like “Hud,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and the original “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” as well as the TV movie “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story.”

Neal was born in the Whitley County community of Packard.

Beshear closed the session reminding everyone that reading — and broadening their knowledge — can help broaden the minds of others.

“Think about the fact that you need to read at home. To your parents, your grandparents, your brothers and sisters. It’s really important to expand your mind. Do public service, and read to someone who has trouble reading. For you to take a little bit of time to read to others, that’s amazing,” she pointed out.

For their efforts, Patrick’s fourth-graders will be expanding their travel with a trip next month to Lexington.

They’ll be joining thousands of fourth-graders from across eastern and central Kentucky at Rupp Arena in Lexington for “Feed the Mind - Kentucky,” a celebration of reading and childhood literacy.

Most important of all, Beshear encouraged those young minds — and those that educate them — to soar even higher.

“I get to go to schools, and get to see what we’re doing. The goals the school has set for you, and the encouragement from your teachers, has paid off. … We feed our minds with literacy. I let my mind grow by listening to you, and hear about where you’re going. You never stop learning,” said the First Lady.

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