|Brad Stuart with kindergarten class
at Vandenberg World Cultures Academy
-- When Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart
walked into the kindergarten classroom at Vandenberg World Cultures Academy on Thursday afternoon, every jaw on the faces of the five and six-year-old students fell to the floor.
Some had never seen a hockey player in person before. Some were only somewhat familiar with the sport of hockey in general. Vandenberg has a very diverse student population, with kids from 25 countries from around the world and 29 different languages represented throughout the school.
But Stuart wasn’t there to talk about slapshots or defensive pairings; he was at the small school in Southfield to read to a group of students in Ms. Colsanti’s kindergarten class as a part of National Reading Month. As a father himself, Stuart wanted to help out with the program because he’s familiar with the difference an outside voice can have on young children.
“I’ve got kids - one is five, one is four - and I know how excited they get about stuff like this,” he said. “So it was just a good opportunity to do something that I know the kids will remember for a long time.”
The book he chose was Brady Brady and the Great Exchange
by Mary Shaw and Chuck Temple, a children’s book about a hockey player trying to find a pair of hockey skates to fit one of his teammates. In a class that - by Ms. Colsanti’s own admission - is usually rife with noise and rambunctious kindergartners, the room grew surprisingly quiet as Stuart read to the students while donning his red number 23 jersey.
“Every adult who comes in has an impact on children, because they look at any adult who will give their time to come in as somebody very special,” said Joyce Silagi, Partnerships Coordinator with Vandenberg Academy. “But when we get somebody who is known so well, what it does is just pops and it brings a ‘Wow!’ factor. That’s what they’re thinking today, and this will have probably more of a sticking factor because of that ‘pop.’”
After the reading, Stuart answered a slew of questions from the youngsters; sharing stories about his hockey career and even a trophy he won as a nine-year-old as “Paper Boy of the Month.” The kids got a laugh out of that story and hung on every word Stuart said. It was an afternoon that made a positive impact not only on the kids in attendance, but on the veteran defenseman as well.
“We’re athletes and people view us in a different light and we have a chance to do something good,” he said. “If I was a kid and I had a chance to experience something like this, it’s something I’d talk about for a long time. It’s a positive thing you can do, it takes 20 minutes or whatever, but the effect that it has in the kids and generating some excitement for them - as far as reading goes - is going to last for a while.”