Mary Kathryn Carpenter / The Natchez Democrat — McLaurin Elementary pre-school teacher Leeann Gardner helps untangle balloons while her students look on during the school’s “One Book, One Community” kick-off even Friday afternoon.
Mary Kathryn Carpenter / The Natchez Democrat — McLaurin Elementary pre-school teacher Leeann Gardner helps untangle balloons while her students look on during the school’s “One Book, One Community” kick-off even Friday afternoon.

‘One Book’ initiative kicked off for all Natchez schools, community

Published 12:11am Sunday, May 18, 2014

NATCHEZ Samaria Spears’ goal as she released a balloon into the air Friday afternoon at McLaurin Elementary School was that whoever found the flying orb accomplished their goals in life.

The feat was a lofty goal for which the fourth-grade student aimed, but that was the theme of a kick-off event for a “One Book, One Community” project that Natchez-Adams School District officials hope will bring together all schools in the area.

Spears was one of hundreds of students who stood outside the elementary school Friday clutching balloons with notecards attached to the strings.

The students were instructed to write something they had accomplished on the notecards and include some words of encouragement to someone who might find the notecards.

Mary Kathryn Carpenter / The Natchez Democrat — McLaurin students wave goodbye to their balloons. In honor of the book they will be reading, the students attached cards to their balloons stating how they beat the odds.
Mary Kathryn Carpenter / The Natchez Democrat — McLaurin students wave goodbye to their balloons. In honor of the book they will be reading, the students attached cards to their balloons stating how they beat the odds.

Spears knew exactly what she was going to write on her card when the project was presented to her class.

“My goal was to make the superintendent scholar’s list, and I did,” Spears said, smiling. “I worked really hard and made it to on the list, so I know someone else can reach their goals if they try.”

On the notecard attached to her balloon, Spears gave a brief description of what she had accomplished and included an extra note at the bottom.

“I wrote, ‘P.S. Whoever gets this, I hope you accomplish your goal in life, too,” Spears said. “Hopefully, whoever finds it can do whatever they want to do.”

The One Book, One Community concept began in 1998 in Seattle and has spread to cities across the country, including some in Mississippi.

The goal behind the project, NASD Superintendent Frederick Hill said, is to have all the schools in the community come together with one common goal.

“This is not just a Natchez-Adams School District project, we have all the private schools in the area participating as well,” Hill said. “It’s meant to show that we can all come together with the common goal of educating our children.”

The project’s featured book is “I Beat the Odds: from Homelessness to The Blind Side and Beyond” by Michael Oher, who is an NFL offensive tackle and former Ole Miss standout.

Oher’s life story was told on the big screen in the Academy Award-winning 2009 film “The Blind Side.”

The book, Hill said, provides a valuable lesson that children in the area can benefit from hearing.

“It talks about overcoming obstacles, which is a great message for anyone to hear,” Hill said. “These students need to realize that things are going to come their way but if they stay focused and stay determined, they can be successful.”

The message was one that had impacted Quadrick Bradford, a fifth grade McLaurin student who was already 10 chapters into the book.

“It was really interesting to see how much (Oher) had gone through in his life and how he was still able to be so successful,” Bradford said. “It made me realize how good I have it here when I was reading about the area where he grew up and what he went through.

“If he can make it through all that, I know I can do whatever I want in life.”

Younger students in the elementary schools will read one of two different books depending on their grade level: “Jackie & Me” or “Giraffes Can’t Dance.”

All three books, Hill said, share the same common message of overcoming life’s obstacles along the way.

Various events are planned throughout the community to support the project, ranging from a movie night on the bluff to a community roundtable discussion, which Oher was invited to attend.

Students and community members interested in participating in the project are asked to have finished reading the book by Sept. 20.

For updates and more information on the project, visit the project’s Facebook page at “One Book One Community-Natchez, MS” or at 1book1communitynatchez.blogspot.com.