Pot of Gold at the end of “The Reading Rainbow!”

levar-burton-reading-to-sfsBy Reed Gabhart, Head of Goshen Campus

This Tuesday, the entire campus, from Preschool to adults, were treated to an assembly I don’t think any of us will ever forget. Renowned actor and educational advocate LeVar Burton came to St. Francis to promote his very successful Reading Rainbow series on PBS! And while most of our kids have no idea of the ground-breaking impact the miniseries Roots had on a 1970s America, nor saw him on Star Trek The Next Voyage, they did understand this was a famous man from his Reading Rainbow program on public television. They were shown clips from his past shows in advance, and snippets from Reading Rainbow, so they knew a famous actor was coming to read to them!

At the start of the assembly, with an extremely packed main amp, I had never heard the student body so absolutely quiet (can we recreate this?). You could have heard a pin (or shoe) drop. After an introduction by Alexandra, the kids erupted in applause when LeVar Burton came out smiling broadly. The next hour was magical. At the beginning, LeVar told us his mother was an English teacher and reading was put on a pedestal in his home. As he said, “You either read a book, or my mom hit you in the head with a book, so you were dealing with books either way!” He read two stories to the students with great expression and many different voices. The first, Enemy Pie, was both entertaining and instructive for kids and adults, with the lesson of trying to get to know and understand your perceived “enemies,” rather than have them at all. It ended so gloriously positive.

He also showed a couple of very entertaining film clips, including one “related” to Star Trek about the science behind how astronauts, how shall we say, “relieve” themselves in space (Ok, he said, “poop,” so I will too!). As you can imagine, this was a big hit with all ages!

But the highlight of the assembly was probably when Kim Aberle had our 4th and 5th grade students sing and play LeVar their rendition of the Reading Rainbow theme song on xylophones. He took out his cell phone and filmed us during it, and was obviously touched. The kids were mesmerized by his magnetic presence, but most undoubtedly also received his message of the importance of reading and education in general, and treating everyone with compassion.

Afterwards, the faculty were treated to a half hour “meet and greet” with LeVar, which was very special. Many pictures were snapped and there were probably a few unwashed hands that night! Joanne Brock had LeVar Burton t-shirts made up beforehand, which tickled him to death. It speaks to his appreciation for teachers and education that he includes these personal “touches” with teachers in his visits (and for our parents, we apologize that you couldn’t attend the assembly, but those were his instructions).

Special thanks to Ginny Frazier and Rachael Hicks for making this memorable day happen. We are among only three schools he is visiting this year! Thank you to Lower School Dean Jen Griffith, who doggedly pursued this opportunity for two years! She was a true “Nervous Nellie” the morning of the assembly, hustling to and fro making sure everything was perfect for LeVar. And thanks to Librarian Lindsy Serrano, who was in absolute heaven, as Reading Rainbow inspired her to become a librarian in the first place! At the end of the assembly, some grateful tears streaked down her face (much like The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm had during LeVar’s second story). This certainly was a “pot of gold” day for St. Francis School!