All 700 students at Chicopee Woods Elementary School in Hall County got an early Christmas present Friday - a copy of the book "The Magician's Hat" and a visit from the author, former University of Georgia football player Malcolm Mitchell.
Mitchell, a native of Valdosta who also played in the NFL for the New England Patriots, has spent the last few years of his young life taking his Reading Rally programs on the road, working to instill a love of learning in young children.
The 25-year-old Mitchell struggled with reading when he was a student, and he has been open about his fight to become a strong reader, a fight that led him to write and publish his own children's book while he was a student at UGA. While Mitchell was in college, he met a woman in a Barnes & Noble book store in Athens and asked her to recommend a book. That conversation ended with an invitation for Mitchell to join a women's book club in Athens.
"From being in that group, I think my love for reading blossomed into something that I could not have predicted," Mitchell said during his visit to Chicopee Woods school. "[It led] to everything that we're doing today."
Mitchell's Reading Rally programs have taken him all over the country. His Share the Magic Foundation selects schools based on applications and Mitchell visits the schools, offering inspirational talks to the kids and a book for each child to take home.
At the Chicopee Woods Reading Rally, not only did the students get to see and hear Mitchell, they also were treated to a magic show by local magician Jeff McClure. Then, Mitchell and Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal read aloud "The Magician's Hat" while the students followed along.
Fourth grade teacher Gaye Smith, an avoid Georgia football fan, was the teacher who filed the application for a Reading Rally for her school.
"Years ago, when Malcolm was at the University of Georgia, I heard him on the radio right before a Georgia game and they were talking to him about his book club, and that was even before he wrote his book," Smith said. "His story touched my heart as a teacher."
Initially, she sent an email asking if Mitchell could just visit and read to her class. Mitchell's publicist suggest she apply for one of the rallies and the rest is history. Smith said she could not have been happier with the way the students responded.
"I loved that they were all engrossed in their book and they were turning the pages with him and digging down deep and paying close attention and reading along with him," Smith said. "I love that they're all going to be able to take a book home."
Chicopee Woods Principal Jamie Hitzges said having a program like the Reading Rally at his school was a big deal for his students, mainly because the overwhelming majority of the student population struggles financially; owning their own book is icing on the cake for the kids.
"Having a hard-bound book that's going to last is great," Hitzges said.
Editor's note: Listen to more of Malcolm Mitchell's interview in the audio player included with this article.
Special Literacy Grants announced after Reading Rally
Following the Reading Rally program on Friday, Malcolm Mitchell’s Share the Magic Foundation, the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement and The Get Georgia Reading Campaign announced special literacy grants for 22 Georgia schools.
Each school will receive the 2019 Georgia Early Learning Reading Initiative Grant and in-school celebrations will take place on Jan. 30, 2019 ahead of Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta.
Schools representing every Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) were selected to receive the 2019 Georgia Early Learning Reading Initiative Grant, benefiting more than 1,600 second grade students. As a recipient of the grant, each school’s second grade students will receive Mitchell’s book “The Magician’s Hat." Additionally, educators will receive a Teacher’s Guide that includes standards-based vocabulary and writing lessons and additional extension activities, an animated video of Malcolm Mitchell reading his book and a First Book Marketplace gift certificate to purchase additional books and resources for the school.
The 2019 Georgia Early Learning Initiative Grant recipients, with one additional school to be confirmed, include:
- Anne Street Elementary School
- Clay County Elementary School
- Cooper-Carver Elementary School
- Dooly County Elementary School
- East Broad Street School
- Elm Street Elementary School
- Freeman Elementary School
- Gaines Elementary School
- Georgia E. Washington Elementary
- Greensboro Elementary School
- Jamestown Elementary School
- Lewis Elementary School
- Nicholls Elementary School
- Northside Elementary School
- Nunn Elementary School
- Palmetto Elementary School
- Taliaferro County School
- Treutlen Elementary School
- Turner Elementary School
- Valley Point Elementary School
- Veterans Elementary School