Tornado-Ravaged School Gets Extreme Classroom Makeover

Contributed by Amy Harvell, Principal at Rice Intermediate Middle School in Rice, TX

In October 2010, a tornado with winds of up to 125 mph ripped through Rice, Texas, damaging the roof and a hallway at newly built Rice Intermediate Middle School. This October, the school was yet again taken by storm – but this time in the form of an Extreme Classroom Makeover replete with a 500-book donation.

“We made national news because someone from the Emergency Response team actually videoed the tornado hitting our building,” said Principal Amy Harvell of the Oct. 24, 2010, storm. Donalyn Miller, a sixth-grade language arts teacher in Texas and author of The Book Whisperer, caught wind of the disaster through her friend Heather Cato.

“I was one of the two speakers at the Scholastic Reading Summit, and in lieu of an honorarium for that speaking engagement, Scholastic offered to work with me to find teacher in need who would benefit from a classroom library,” Donalyn explained. “I felt as if I needed to look for someone who had had some challenges and would really benefit from that gift in a larger way.”

The Rice disaster was exactly the scenario Donalyn had in mind. It was then up to Rice Intermediate’s principal to determine which teacher would receive the donation. “We chose Michelle Zellar because she is a first-year teacher and her classroom is also on the side of the building that was damaged by the tornado,” Amy said.

But simply handing Michelle, a language arts teacher for sixth- and seventh-grade students, the books would not do. Scholastic Book Fairs Field Service Manager Larry Wissinger worked with Amy to make the big donation a big event. It would become an Extreme Classroom Makeover.

So early on the morning of Friday, Oct. 14, Michelle was led outside by a student dressed as Clifford to see a gathering of teachers and students standing before a Scholastic truck. Michelle, Amy explained, had just received an instant classroom library. Then, megaphone in hand, Amy yelled, “Move that truck!” as students and teachers chanted in unison. Behind the truck stood some of Michelle’s students with books and balloons in hand, along with Larry pushing a wheelbarrow brimming over with books.

“Michelle cried tears of joy,” Amy said. “She hardly had any books in her classroom. I used to teach reading, and it probably took me seven years to accumulate that many books!”

Michelle’s students were equally enthusiastic as they eagerly foraged for new titles. The classroom library provided through Scholastic Book Fairs – 100-book sets from the Scholastic Resources Catalog – had titles from grade levels from fifth to eighth.

“I’ve never been able to keep seventh-graders silent during silent reading time,” Michelle laughed. “But today, when they opened that cabinet, everybody was silent. It was just wonderful!” Donalyn is moved at the very thought of the scene. “All I really want is for the kids to have the books,” she said with emotion. “The idea that that a brand-new teacher will get all those books and will have an opportunity to have a tremendous influence on her students is just awesome,” Donalyn said.

Michelle said she is still too stunned for words. “It’s better than money. It’s better than anything,” she said.

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