Bel-Aire Elementary School is now the proud home of a dedicated room for recreational reading, thanks to grant and sponsorship funding.

At a special ceremony on Monday, March 18, Bel-Aire officially unveiled the Ben Carson Reading Room, a special area located in the heart of the school dedicated solely to reading for fun.

According to Principal April Norris, the dedication was the culmination of several months’ work. Norris told The News she applied for the Carson Scholars grant back in the fall of last year and was notified of her selection in November. Once she was notified of the grant win, volunteers and faculty members got to work putting the whole room together.

This space, which is separate from the Bel-Aire school library, is a place with really no structure, Norris said of the idea.

“What I want them to understand is this is not anything to do with [school assignments],” she said. “This is just so they can come in, get comfortable, leisurely read and just develop that love of reading.”

Norris said having a space where students can enjoy reading only helps foster a “foundational” success for her Bel-Aire Bees.

“I just think reading is foundational for building successful futures,” she said, so when she found out about the grant she knew she had to apply.

Sharing her philosophy of the importance of literacy in children is Shannon Kelley, with the Deaver Phoenix Foundation, which is also a sponsor for the room.

According to Kelley, the foundation is “chartered to provide educational opportunities for young children in non-affluent areas.”

Kelley said the foundation was happy to provide some funding for the room, as reading is “one of those skills that is required for success in … life.”

“Through hard work and through education they [the students] can succeed and do anything, so that’s why at the Deaver Phoenix Foundation, we are happy to come into these schools and bring these libraries in and try to build a love of learning and reading into their lives,” Kelley said.

Kelley was also impressed that Bel-Aire had an entirely separate space available for the Reading Room, as that was something not frequently seen.

“You don’t often find schools that have room to do that, we’re very thankful that here in Tullahoma they were able to do that for us,” he said.

He credited the contributions of the teachers, their families and multiple volunteers for the “wonderful” decoration inside the room, which bears a Dr. Seuss theme.

Huge portraits of beloved Seuss characters line the back wall of the room, including the Cat in the Hat, the Grinch and more.

Kelley called the décor inside the room “skillfully decorated” and “creative,” saying the space would be “live and vibrant” for the students to enjoy.

“Hopefully it’s going to be a comfortable place to learn and love reading,” he added.


Ben Carson Reading Project

Norris also hopes students learn more about the founder of such reading rooms across the country – Dr. Ben Carson.

The Reading Project is one component of the Carson Scholars Fund (CSF), a scholarship fund founded in 1994 by the neurosurgeon and current secretary of Housing and Urban Development and his wife, Candy.

According to the CSF website, the Reading Project was initiated 2000, with the first reading room established at Hall’s Cross Roads Elementary School in Aberdeen, Maryland.

Since then more than 200 Reading Rooms in 23 states and Washington, D.C. have been created.

The primary difference between a library and a Ben Carson Reading Room, according to the Carson Scholars Fund, is that a Reading Room is a space solely designed to allow students to take control of what they read.

“Most of the time spent in the library is devoted to curricula instruction, researching a subject or writing book reports,” the CSF says, which can creates negative connections between books and reading in young students’ minds.

The Reading Room pushes away the rigidity of school lessons and instead stocks its shelves with “high-interest” reading material, such as popular book franchises like the Harry Potter series. By allowing students to choose what books they would like to read, they will be more likely to want to read, CSF says.

For more information on the Carson Scholars Fund and the Ben Carson Reading Project, visit

Erin McCullough may be reached at