By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
At 6 feet 6 inches tall, Dr. Alexander Erwin towered over the kindergarteners at Isenberg Elementary School Wednesday morning.
But while reading “What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?” as they sat on the library floor, Erwin had no trouble getting down to their level and relating to them.
“When you put on your good listening ears your mouth is closed and your ears are what?” Erwin asked. “Closed!” the students emphatically replied in unison.
And so it began.
Erwin, dean of the Division of Education, Psychology and Social Work at Livingstone College, read to the students while asking questions and allowing those who answered correctly to choose prizes along the way.
Joining him at Isenberg were Dr. Lelia Vickers, vice president of academic affairs, Dr. Lewis Dowdy, associate professor of education, Suzette Davis, associate professor of education, and Deonte Kennedy, a rising junior who aspires to be a teacher and who provided sound effects by playing a trumpet as Erwin read.
Livingstone has partnered with Isenberg Elementary School for several years, and this is the third year the college has donated books to the school. Davis, also director of student teaching at Livingstone, coordinates the annual trip to Isenberg and works closely with Isenberg Media Specialist Karen Puckett.
As he interacted with them on Wednesday, Erwin told the students he used to love stopping by the kindergarten class when he was principal of C.C. Wright Elementary School in North Wilkesboro.
“You’re very bright, and you’re eager to learn,” Erwin said. “Reading is very important. I know you want to play with your friends and watch TV, but always find the time to read because reading is fundamental.”
After Erwin’s time with the students, Vickers briefly encouraged them to read as many books as they could and promised a trip to the college on Livingstone’s bus, affectionately called “Big Blue,” if they complied.
Vickers was followed by Kennedy, a drum major in Livingstone’s marching band. He played “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for the students as they sang along and, with mace in hand, delighted them by demonstrating some tricky dance moves, including a split.
But he got serious with them, too, explaining the importance of reading, humility and being a good listener.
Just before the kindergarteners returned to class to make way for the third graders, they were given books donated by Livingstone. Doris Funes, 5, was given “Ballet Kitty” by Bernette G. Ford and Sam Williams. Malaki Petty, 6, was given “Skeleton Cat” by Kristyn Crow.
Doris and Malaki are in Trish Bryan’s class. The school’s other kindergarten teachers are Jessica Whitson, Asiah Simmons and Brittany Battle.
“It was fun when he was dancing,” Malaki said, referring to Kennedy. “It was fun when Malvin and Mr. Kennedy were dancing,” added Doris, referring to one of their classmates. Both children said they like to read because they “learn new stuff” when they do.
After the kindergarteners left the library, the third graders listened attentively as Davis read “Moonshot” to them. Her reading was peppered with appropriately timed trumpet sounds from Kennedy, who interacted with the students when she finished.
Kennedy allowed several students, including Zander Burton, Lesther Baca, Alex Cruz and Jayden Browning, to hold his mace. And he put big smiles on the third graders’ faces when he played music as Jacob Joseph, Paris Gladden, Domanae Wilks, Armonie Brown and Saniyah Beard did “The Wobble,” a popular line dance.
Zander and Paris said they had fun on Wednesday. “I enjoyed it because I love reading books, and I like learning about space,” Zander said. Both said reading can make them smarter and thanked Livingstone College for the books.
Isenberg Principal Marvin Moore appreciated the time Livingstone officials spent with his students.
“It’s always good to plant the seeds of furthering a child’s education beyond high school,” Moore said. “Having a partnership with a college gives our students live models to which they can aspire to become.”
Terrance Crawford, an Isenberg third grade teacher, said Wednesday’s event was worthwhile; a sentiment undoubtedly shared by colleagues Matthew Lail and Reba Drennan.
“Our partnership with Livingstone College helps to support academic achievement here at Isenberg,” Crawford said. “A lot of students, especially boys, think they don’t need school because they’re going to be basketball players or football players, but I think it’s important for the students to see how academics and extracurricular activities go hand in hand. Mr. Kennedy relayed that message to them because he’s in the band and also doing well in school.”
Erwin said he was very pleased with Wednesday’s outing.
“The kids were excellent,” Erwin said. “They were very attentive, they were excited and they listened very well. I thought they were very engaged, and I think a program like the one we had can really spark their interest in reading.”
He said Livingstone’s partnership with Isenberg Elementary School fits in perfectly with Rowan-Salisbury’s literacy program “that stresses every child should have five books to read during the summer.”
And Kennedy was a great role model for the students, he said.
“For him to be able to integrate his talent of playing the trumpet with his drum major role was excellent,” Erwin said. “He modeled what I would say are some excellent qualities for beginning teachers, including teaching the children how to follow instructions by playing the age-old classic ‘Simon Says.’ If children are going to be successful, they need to be able to follow instructions.”