Decorated in orange and black across their campus, the celebration of reading began with Ducks staff members visiting kindergarten through sixth grade classrooms to read to the kids and share about their roles in the Ducks organization.
A participant in the Ducks S.C.O.R.E. (Scholastic Curriculum of Recreation & Education) Program since its inception in 2005, Centralia Elementary was rewarded with the day-long event for the school's dedication to the program and their continued commitment to fostering a love for reading in their students.
"I genuinely appreciate that Centralia was selected today to focus on reading and to develop a new appreciation for the sport of hockey," said Centralia School District Superintendant, Norma Martinez. "To have a professional organization devote an entire day to this amazing school of ours that is filled with so many kids who are being introduced to a new sport and being encouraged to read, it means everything."
A division of the award-winning Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Program, Reading is the Goal is a free program designed for fourth grade students throughout Southern California and made possible by the Anaheim Ducks Foundation. Reaching more than 9,000 students across 300 classrooms during 2016-17, the fourth graders are encouraged and rewarded for reading and logging their minutes over a 30-day period. Centralia fourth grade teacher and S.C.O.R.E. Program liaison, Tracey Heidner, has seen the direct results of the program and how it has helped to cultivate a passion for reading in her students.
"Reading is the Goal really goes along so well with our program here to help incentivize the kids to read more than what I already expect of them," Heidner said. "I think the impact is huge. My students are very excited to want to read."
During their lunch recess, the school's nearly 600 students were given the opportunity to play street hockey on the playground with the Ducks C.R.E.W. (Community Recreation, and Educational Workforce), many experiencing the sport for the first time.
"I really enjoyed the street hockey," said 10-year old fifth grader, Ryan. "This was my first time playing, which made me more excited. I can't wait to play more."
"Our partnership with the Ducks helps our students get involved in a sport outside of what they know," Heidner said. "The kids have already said this is one of the best days they've ever had at school, and they'll remember it forever."
The festivities culminated with an afternoon assembly, where fourth through sixth graders gathered as Ducks players Korbinian Holzer and Kevin Bieksa, along with Kevin's wife, Katie Bieksa, read to the students.
Ducks television play-by-play announcer John Ahlers welcomed the three to the stage as they jointly read from, "Brady Brady and the B Team," a hockey-themed children's book about the importance of balancing athletics and academics.
Holzer and the Bieksas shared about their own love for reading, including the Bieksa's family commitment with their two children to incorporate at least 30 minutes of reading each night before bedtime. Katie, who just published her first novel called "Newport Jane" earlier this year, recalled "To Kill a Mockingbird" as one of her favorite novels, while Holzer said he enjoyed reading the Harry Potter series.
The three fielded several questions from the students ranging from when they learned how to skate to their most intense moments in a hockey game. Between some good-natured ribbing from Holzer and Bieksa about their respective national country teams (Germany and Canada), the athletes inspired the kids to pursue a love for reading along with a love for their favorite sports, reminding them to never stop learning, no matter their age.
"This was really fun, and now I want to read more since they persuaded me to read," said 10-year old fifth grader, Marielle.
"It's really inspiring to me," said fifth grader, Mhiyel. "When I grow up, I would love to do the same."
"What I love most about reading is that it shows you about other people's lives, and it can motivate you to try new things," added 10-year old Alyssa. "This days meant a lot to me because it was really cool to see the players at our school."
At the close of the assembly, the Ducks presented Centralia principal Dr. Tia Belt-Brown, with a full set of street hockey equipment, a collection of books for the school's library and a framed jersey autographed by the team.
"The ongoing support from the Ducks is a lasting legacy here," Dr. Brown said. "This has revolutionized all of our students, from Kindergarten to sixth grade. They see the importance of reading, the ongoing support of reading, and they know that entities and people outside of the school district support reading and care about our kids and our community."
As parents, both Holzer and Bieksa were grateful to be part of a day that promoted literacy and the growth of the sport of hockey for local students.
"This has been great," Bieksa said. "Reading is the foundation of learning, so at a young age, you want to make sure they're enjoying what they're reading and are interested in it. As they get older, the more they read, the more educated they'll become. If you can instill those values at a young age, it will pay off."
"Coming here and talking to the kids about hockey and bringing the sport closer to them, hopefully we can get some of them excited to come watch a game themselves," Holzer added. "It was a fun event, and I hope the kids had a fun time too."
As both a mother and an author, Katie Bieksa appreciated the chance to give back to the community through sharing the importance of literacy.
"I loved it, and I thought it was a really warm welcome from kids who probably don't know that much about hockey," she said. "They seemed really interested. They had great questions. And it's great to see people they look up to sharing how important it is to make time for academics and reading. That will take you far in life."
Heidner expressed gratitude to the Ducks for their commitment to the community, noting that the way the organization values education is an extension of their goodwill.
"I'm just excited that someone is interested in our school and has a passion for what we do here," Heidner said. "For the students to see that the Anaheim Ducks care about them and care about our community, it really has an impact on our kids."
For more information about the Anaheim Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Program, visit ducksscore.com.