It was a day the students at Gisler Elementary School in Fountain Valley won't soon forget, as their campus was the site of the Anaheim Ducks tenth annual Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Reading is the Goal Day.
The day-long celebration of literacy and hockey began with Ducks staff members visiting the kindergarten through fifth grade classrooms to read books to the students. The staffers also answered questions from the kids on the importance of literacy and how it relates to their roles within the Ducks organization.
As one of the first schools to participate in the Ducks S.C.O.R.E. (Scholastic Curriculum of Recreation & Education) Program beginning in 2005, Gisler Elementary was rewarded for their continued dedication to Reading is the Goal and other S.C.O.R.E. initiatives.
Reading is the Goal is a 30-day program offered for free to participating schools by the Anaheim Ducks Foundation and is designed to encourage and reward fourth graders for their commitment to reading. During the 2015-16 season, more than 10,000 students across 300 Southern California classrooms benefitted from the program.
"This program from the Ducks does so much," said Gisler Elementary principal Erin Baines. "They have so much reach, not just with the reading program, but also with the after-school sports and the assemblies they combine with science. As an organization, they're being incredible role models."
After the reading sessions concluded, the students had the opportunity to play street hockey out on the playground during lunch recess, as the Ducks Hockey Development C.R.E.W. was on hand to work with the kids on the basics of the game.
Gisler Elementary's S.C.O.R.E. Program liaison, fourth grade teacher Tiffany Laird, has seen over the years how the school's participation in Reading is the Goal has inspired a love for reading in her students.
"The kids are so motivated to read," Laird said. "All of a sudden, they're reading more, and they get something tangible for their efforts. Even our reluctant readers get so excited about reading. And that starts to form good habits for them."
The day concluded with the school's third, fourth and fifth grade classes attending an afternoon assembly hosted by Ducks television play-by-play announcer John Ahlers and featuring Ducks players Josh Manson and Jared Boll.
As they were welcomed to the stage with ear-ringing cheers, Manson and Boll took turns reading to the students from Brady Brady and the Great Rink, a hockey-themed children's book about the importance of hard work and commitment.
Manson and Boll shared with the students that hard work pays off and is the path to achieving their goals, no matter what they choose to do in life. The two also spoke of the importance of literacy and how they incorporate reading into their daily lives through studying information about their opponent or relaxing with a good book while on the road.
The players then took questions from the students who asked everything from how often they practice to which books are their favorites to read. Manson said he was a big fan of the Harry Potter series, having read all of the books while growing up, while Boll recalled "The Giver" by Lois Lowry as a story he enjoyed.
Fourth grade student Cole Rothrock said he had been looking forward to the event for several weeks and was excited to have the Ducks visit his school.
"It was great because we got to see players, so I thought that was pretty exciting," Rothrock said. "We got to know the team a little bit. We asked them questions, and that was interesting. Today was a lot of fun."
Mason and Boll both appreciated the chance to get out into the community and give back in a way that will influence the students through literacy.
"It's a lot of fun to do stuff away from the rink like this, especially with kids this age, to see how excited they get," Boll said. "It's great to be up on stage and read them a book and have them pay attention like they did. It was a lot of fun."
Manson added, "I feel very fortunate to be a part of an organization that does this. A big part to me is to be able to give back to the community, and not just in an athletic way through getting them into hockey, but also to be able to do it educationally like this with a reading program."
To close out the assembly, Wild Wing joined Manson and Boll in presenting Gisler Elementary with a collection of hockey-themed books for the school's library, a full set of street hockey equipment and a framed Ducks jersey autographed by the team.
Grateful for the Ducks commitment to education through literacy, Laird believes this will be an event the students will always remember.
"This is going to leave a lasting impression," Laird said. "They see the importance of reading, they're excited about learning and they're excited for hockey. And what we're doing now helps set them up for the future. We're just so thankful that the Ducks do this in the community. It's an amazing program."
For more information on the Anaheim Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Program, visit ducksscore.com.