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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Sharing joys of reading
Private school kids give books to kids at a public school populated by low-income families.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published December 14, 2007
[Zach Boyden-Holmes | Times]
"This one is my favorites," says Lori Ekblad, a language arts teacher from Renaissance Academy, as she holds up a Flat Stanley book to a group of kids Thursday morning in the library at Cox Elementary.
DADE CITY - Adam Ekblad and his classmates at Renaissance School know they have things pretty easy.
"If you look at my room, I've got plenty of books all over," the sixth-grader says.
So when it came time for the students at the private school in New Port Richey to do something kind for others, they jumped at the opportunity to collect and donate books to children at Cox Elementary, a school where 95 percent of students receive free or reduced-price meals.
"I've helped migrant workers before. We realize a lot of their kids go to school here," Adam, 11, said. "They don't have all the books they need. ...We're here to help."
The Renaissance students conducted a "write-a-thon," getting sponsors to give them an amount per word written, rather than hold a sale of gifts that no one wants but everyone feels obligated to buy. With the money they raised, they purchased 535 books - one for every child who attends Cox.
The kids who collected the most money delivered the books to Cox on Thursday morning.
Cox students, who streamed through the media center over the span of about 90 minutes to pick a title, excitedly thumbed through the boxes of books trying to find the one that interested them most. "Do you have sports?" "Is there SpongeBob?"
Teachers stood by to make sure they chose something appropriate to their abilities.
Their interest intensified when they figured out they weren't just borrowing library books.
"I can keep this?" one boy asked.
"Yes, they're yours to keep," a teacher answered.
"Woo-hoo!" the boy shouted, pumping the book in the air as he left the room.
Third-grader Jiovani Ibarra, 9, clutched Back to the Divide by Elizabeth Key in his hands. He was thrilled to have another book to add to his personal library.
"I think this is perfect for me, because I always like to read chapter books," Jiovani said. "They're so nice that they brought these for me."
Cox reading specialist Melinda Smith praised the Renaissance students and teachers for their initiative.
"I think it just established a love of literacy for all students," Smith said. The Renaissance students "see the joy that it brings these kids. And it shows these kids that literacy is important."
Cox principal Leila Mizer welcomed the kindness that not only Renaissance School, but also so many schools and civic organizations, have shown to her students. The Trinity Elementary PTO buys new shoes for Cox students each year, and the Saddlebrook Academy parents bring wrapped gifts for the prekindergartners and kindergartners every Christmas.
Quail Hollow Elementary provided Thanksgiving turkeys and side dishes in November. Last year, the Lake Jovita Woman's Club bought books for the kids.
"It's a real nice thing they're doing," Mizer said of the Renaissance students. "I'm really impressed."
The Renaissance students and their teacher, Lori Ekblad, spent hours raising the money and hours picking all the books to bring to Cox. They, too, were pleased with the way things turned out.
"It makes me feel good because I did something to help," seventh-grader Sean Presti said as he watched the Cox students empty the boxes.
"I think it's wonderful," said Ekblad, Adam's mom. "Do you know how many thank you's I've gotten? This is what it's all about."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or 813 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.