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Thunder superstar Westbrook opens reading room at local school

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From left, Nevaeh, Lillian, principal Mrs.A.L. Jones, Russell Westbrook, Simone, Olivia and Christian. - Ribbon cutting for Russell's Reading Room.Photo/Shannon Cornman - SHANNON CORNMAN
  • Shannon Cornman
  • From left, Nevaeh, Lillian, principal Mrs.A.L. Jones, Russell Westbrook, Simone, Olivia and Christian. Ribbon cutting for Russell's Reading Room.Photo/Shannon Cornman

Students saw an NBA superstar, the superintendent saw 1,200 new books for an underprivileged school and the principal was in tears as she thought about the impact the new Russell Westbrook Reading Room would have at North Highland Elementary in Oklahoma City.

“That’s the kind of excitement you want to see from kids at school,” Westbrook said about the reaction from a handful of students who were waiting for him in the new reading room last Monday.

The students were excited to see Westbrook, but they seemed equally excited when they were told they could start exploring the new reading room, its hundreds of books and its various lounge areas.

Okay, maybe not equally excited.

“I really, really, really, really wanted to meet Russell Westbrook,” fourth-grader Olivia Lambert said. “My hands started shaking [when I saw him]. It was mind-blowing.” But Lambert said she was also excited about the new reading room, which is painted in Thunder colors and features life-size pictures of Westbrook on many of the walls.

Russell Westbrook stops into "Russell's Reading Room" to read books with children at North Highland Elementary.Photo/Shannon Cornman - girls are Lillian left, and Ayana, right.
  • Russell Westbrook stops into "Russell's Reading Room" to read books with children at North Highland Elementary.Photo/Shannon Cornman girls are Lillian left, and Ayana, right.

‘It’s emotional’

The reading room was donated through Westbrook’s Why Not? Foundation, which also sponsors Russell’s Reading Challenge in partnership with Scholastic. North Highland’s new reading room includes books, a modular reading center and a stereo CD listening station.

“This is hopefully the first of many,” said Westbrook. Principal Anita Jones was nearly in tears at the unveiling of the new reading room. Partly because of the excitement of having one of basketball’s biggest stars visit her school, but mostly because she understands the impact that improved literacy could have.

“It’s emotional because I want so much for my students and reading is an area that they really struggle in,” Jones said. “We have a library, but for them to know that Russell Westbrook donated a room for them, I think that’s really going to motivate them and encourage them. It’s just special. We are in a high-poverty area, and it just means a lot.”
Nearly a third of OKC Public Schools’ third-grade students scored unsatisfactory on last year’s reading test issued by the state as literacy continues to be a challenge not just in local schools but across the state. As education and government leaders continue to debate ways to improve reading skills in students, increasing access to books and creating a fun environment to read in could be one solution at North Highland and the other schools in which Westbrook says he hopes to create reading rooms.

“We now have more books that these students have access to,” Superintendent Robert Neu said. “It’s a beautiful room, and it has such a significant meaning that an NBA superstar was here to give this gift to these kids. It’s a huge message.”

Print head: Russell’s room, OKC Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook opens a reading room at a local school.

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