NEWTON GROVE — Heily Avila Ponce is having fun spreading the love of reading at Hobbton Elementary School. The fourth-grader is currently collecting books through the successful “Give Five-Read Five” drive.
“I feel really good because I like reading as well,” Heily said. “I think giving the opportunity for other people to read makes me feel real good.”
On Thursday, she was excited to receive a special visit from the woman who initiated the reading program — June Atkinson. The former North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction launched the first campaign in 2013 after researching the benefits of children during long breaks.
“I felt pretty good talking to her about what I’m interested in,” Heily said about her chat with the former school leader.
Research from Harvard University revealed that reading five books during the summer may reduce learning loss. That encouraged Atkinson to begin the program, which encourages schools, nonprofits, churches and other organizations to hold book drives.
“It is very important for the children in Sampson County to read during the summer,” Atkinson said. “We know that students lose two and a half to three months of reading progress every single summer.”
She commended Hobbton Elementary educators for their willingness to make a difference when school is not in session.
Media Specialist Melanie Spell was also excited about Heily’s efforts and the visit from Atkinson.
“She loves education and we’re happy for her to be on our team to start this,” Spell said.
During her visit, Atkinson read her book, “The T-shirt Named Z,” which focuses on character traits such as determination, resiliency and empathy. She recently took up piano lessons for the first time in her life and discussed the process of learning again with fourth graders.
“I had to become a student again,” Atkinson said. “One thing about becoming a student again is, even though I’m an adult, I feel like a student and I depend on my teacher to give me encouragement. I depend on my teacher to tell me when I need to make improvements.”
Following the reading, Atkinson visited the classroom of Heily’s teacher, Brent Rivenbark. Heily was encouraged by Rivenbark. Through his “You Will Change the World” initiative, students in his classroom start or become involved in community service projects.
“We’re super excited that she took time to come hang out with us for a while,” Rivenbark said about Atkinson’s visit.
For her, the book drive is her second time leading a Give Five-Read Five drive. The first was held at Meadow Elementary School.
“Reading may take you to different adventures,” Heily said. “It’s fun and it may help you with something you want to be when you grow up.”
Heily recently held a canned food drive at Hobbton Elementary. Like other projects, Rivenbark appreciates Heily’s goals for the project, which will help students during spring break.
“Reading equals knowledge,” Rivenbark said. “If they continue to do that, they’ll continue to grow and learn new things. It’s a good program for Heily to help get going out here.”
Books will be collected through Friday, March 31, and may be dropped off at Hobbton Elementary School, 12361 Hobbton Highway, Newton Grove. For more information regarding the book drive, contact Rivenbark at 910-290-3220.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.