‘I Speak for the Trees!’: Happy Valley second graders receive free copies of The Lorax

Published 6:30 pm Thursday, April 20, 2017

It all started with a simple request by Happy Valley Elementary student Caitlyn Slocum.
Project Lorax — an initiative created by the Northeast Tennessee Democratic Resource Center that is providing area second-grade students with a copy of The Lorax to celebrate Earth Day — made a surprise visit to the school Thursday morning and provided 120 copies of the book to the second grade class in the school’s gymnasium. Along with the books, students from kindergarten through the second grade were treated with a special reading of The Lorax by Jerry Muelver with the Jonesborough Storytellers Guild and even a visit from the story’s main character.
HVE Principal Stephen Garland said the initiative goes hand-in-hand with the school and state mission of encouraging students to read during the K-2 level.
“We actually had a student (Caitlyn) Slocum, who requested our school be part of this,” Garland said with a smile. “We’re excited to see this happen today because it all came from one student’s request. (Assistant Principal) Mrs. (Lisa) Ensor got in touch with the group. This goes along with the state’s initiative of promoting students to read from K-2.”
Muelver handled the storytelling duties and engaged the crowd while Greg Lenske and Project Lorax Director Murphey Johnson held a copy of The Lorax so that children sitting across the bleachers could keep up with the story.
Seeing the smiles and laughs during the day makes it all worthwhile, according to the principal.
“Definitely, we’re doing everything we can to get children interested in reading,” he said. “We realize where it can take students and it is powerful to have this type of community involvement. This just shows how much the community cares about the school, the children and the county.”
Selecting HVE came with ease, according to Johnson. In Project Lorax’s infancy, Slocum and her mother were at a DRC meeting when Johnson recommended the idea of the project. After his speech, Slocum went on to ask Johnson if the Happy Valley second graders could be involved.
“It’s not like you can deny something like that,” Johnson said with a laugh. “We initially planned on just doing all the Johnson City schools first. But after hearing from Caitlyn, we wanted to make sure Happy Valley Elementary was one of the first schools we would supply books to. And come to find out it’s our largest school we’ve provided books to so far.”
Project Lorax has raised over $9,500, which proved to be enough to purchase books over roughly 1,300 second-grade students in Washington County and four HVE. The Carter County School was one of 14 locations where books were scheduled to be delivered to, so far.
“This has been great. We’ve had a great time dropping off the books,” Johnson said, adding Project Lorax was heading straight to Fall Branch after the HVE trip to distribute books. “The kids have been wonderful. They’ve been awesome listeners and truly appreciate the story. We love to see their smiles each time we can pass out a book.”
The Project allows second grade students to receive a free copy of the popular Dr. Seuss tale,  provides encouragement to young readers, highlights environmental stewardship and celebrates Earth Day — scheduled for Saturday, April 22.
Each copy of the book also has a special tribute to Ashley Block — a local conservationist who recently passed away — on the front page. After learning about Project Lorax, the Block family contributed a significant portion of funds for the initiative as they thought of their daughter, who graduated summa cum laude from Sewanee in 2013, as their own Lorax.
“(My wife and I) thought this could be the perfect way to honor our daughter,” William Block recently told the Elizabethton Star.
The support hasn’t gone unnoticed by Project Lorax. Johnson added the DRC is hoping to continue the project in honor of Ashley.
As far as what’s ahead, Johnson stated that there are still some schools that are set to receive books. Other schools that have shown interest to receive copies, according to the director, include one in Kingsport and the Elizabethton City Schools’ elementary facilities.
“As long as we have the books, we’ll make sure students get them,” he said.
Visit projectlorax.org to learn more about the initiative or make a donation to the cause. Individuals can also email murph@projectlorax.org to contact Johnson.

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