Candy Carson stands next to Lynne and Brice Holland as she cuts the ribbon at the grand-opening ceremony for Tiger Creek Elementary's Ben Carson Reading Room. Pictured in front of them is Kim Nichols, Holly Caputi, Martha Eaker, Gloria Hunt, Ray Johnson and David Beard, from left. (Staff photo by Myron Madden)

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Reading Rooms

Within the walls of Tiger Creek Elementary's newly built castle hideaway, kids can be found getting lost in their imaginations — though not through play.

Perched in a hanging tent overlooking a faux fireplace, a boy sits captivated by the pages of a book. In a cozy little cubby across the room, a girl digs deeper and deeper into a graphic novel as a miniature waterfall bubbling to her left transports her to some faraway land through sound.

All throughout this book-filled paradise, students are doing more than finding a quiet place to escape, said school principal David Beard. They're cultivating a lifelong love of reading.

Catoosa County celebrated the unveiling of its two newest Ben Carson Reading Rooms last week with a grand-opening ceremony at Tiger Creek Elementary and West Side Elementary. Cloud Springs Elementary became the first school in the county to receive a reading room in April.

The castle-themed reading nooks, complete with comfy seating options and a plethora of special book selections, come courtesy of a donation from the Holland Family Foundation, which coordinated with the Carson Scholars Fund to make the rooms a reality.

Each reading room costs $17,500 to build, according to the Carson Scholars Fund.

In attendance for the grand-opening ceremonies was Candy Carson, who co-founded the fund with her husband, former presidential candidate Ben Carson, now the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. She said the reading rooms were inspired by her husband's mother, who curbed her sons' television time and required them to write weekly book reports instead, turning Ben Carson and his brother into lifelong learners.

Beard said the reading room at Tiger Creek will emulate that example by remaining a technology-free zone where students can read for fun instead of being forced to pick up a specific publication.

"We're so tasked on trying to get kids to check out books on their level, but there are a lot of books that kids love to look at or read that are above or below their level," said Beard. "This area will give them the freedom to do that."

Much like recess, Beard said time in the reading room will serve as a reward for positive behavior in the classroom, perpetuating the idea that reading is something to get excited about.

Though there are 190 such reading rooms scattered across the country, the two newest installments bring the total number of reading rooms in the state of Georgia to five, with three of those now in Catoosa schools.

"For us to have three in Catoosa County is huge," said Ingrid Jones, professional learning coordinator for the school district.

Jones said Tiger Creek and West Side were chosen by the donor because they, like Cloud Springs, have some of the highest poverty levels in the county, as measured by the number of children eligible for free and reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program.

"Early in life I realized that education was the only ticket out of poverty, and it is hard to imagine getting an education without reading skills," Brice Holland of the Holland Family Foundation said in a released statement announcing the two newest installments. "Ben Carson Reading Rooms not only teach reading skills, they teach children to love reading. For that reason, we are happy to partner with the Carson Scholars Fund and Catoosa County Schools Department of Education in their efforts to inspire and motivate students to love reading."

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