Standing on the stage at Belvedere Elementary School, principal Sal Minolfo began questioning students.
“How many of you cheer for the Georgia Bulldogs?” asked Minolfo, as dozens of pupils clapped with approval. “How many like the Clemson Tigers?”
Moments later – as kindergarten, first- and second-grade students waited anxiously – Minolfo broke his surprise to the children.
“Well, today we have some very special visitors from the University of South Carolina,” said Minolfo, as pupils erupted in applause.
On Tuesday, “Cocky’s Reading Express” came to Belvedere Elementary to promote the importance of reading. The literacy campaign is initiated by USC, and the university’s mascot, Cocky, attended the event.
USC students read to pupils and nearly 300 children got a book as a participation gift.
“We’re so appreciative of USC,” Belvedere media specialist Lisa Chapman said. “For these kids to receive a free book, as well as getting to meet Cocky – it means everything.”
Chapman applied for “Cocky’s Reading Express” to visit Belvedere more than two years ago and assumed her request went unanswered.
However, USC officials informed Belvedere earlier this year it had been chosen for the statewide program. According to Chapman, the surprise visit remained a secret to children until today.
“To be honest, I totally forgot about the email – it had been over two years,” Chapman said. “When we finally heard back I was so shocked. I was so excited. This means a great deal to Belvedere Elementary.”
According to a news release, “Cocky’s Reading Express” primarily serves students in 4K through second grade because research shows that children who acquire strong reading skills and a love of reading by the end of second grade are more likely to succeed academically and graduate on time. The program is a collaboration between the University of South Carolina Student Government and the School of Library and Information Science Center for Children’s Books and Literacy.
Among the educators in attendance was Belvedere second-grade teacher Brooke Preston. She graduated from USC and took part in the reading express during her time in Columbia.
“I’m like a kid on Christmas,” said Preston, an Aiken native. “I didn’t sleep at all last night.”
For Belvedere Elementary, this was the second mascot visit this month. Auggie, the Augusta GreenJackets’ mascot, made an appearance earlier in November to spend time with special needs students.
Reach Doug Stutsman at (706) 823-3341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.