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By DAVID PEPIN
National Reading Week brought plenty of guests to Meadowbrook Farms School last week, from local officials and media members to Olympic gymnasts and âThe Amazing Raceâ contestants.
But the schoolâs biggest âgetâ may have been Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who left behind budget crunching and tax debates to play storyteller for a first-grade class.
The governor had the rapt attention of Laurie Ratiganâs class as he read âMiss Brooks Loves Books,â Barbara Bottnerâs tale (illustrated by Michael Emberley and signed by each member of the class) of a reluctant young reader who is won over after the school librarian finds her a book about warts and ogres.
Well, the sight of Rhode Islandâs highest-ranking state official leading a class in a good snort might have inspired her, too, if she had experienced it.
Childrenâs books have, indeed, come a long way from the Jack and Jill and Tip the dog stories Chafee remembered from his early days of reading.
?Reading is important every week of the year,â he said after he finished. âThey enjoy it, and someday theyâll be reading to their own children.â
While Chafee has struggled at times to communicate with media, political critics and miffed taxpayers during his first three months in office, a room of their young children can present a different challenge, he admitted.
?Thereâs always a reluctant member of the group, and you try to reach out to them,â he said.
Ratigan said she landed the governor with the help of two of her classâ parents, Kristen Wheeler and Sara Whitney. The class was well prepared for him, having papered their whiteboard with a big âWelcome Governor Chafeeâ and their drawings of the state map, state flag and the Rhode Island Red.
?The kids have been so exciting about having him visit. He was really engaged with them, something that not everybodyâs able to do,â Ratigan said.
?People didnât think I could get the governor,â said Wheeler, a parent volunteer who helped round up the guests. âI contacted the governorâs office, he agreed, and weâre very appreciative.â
Wheeler said she relied on Facebook to reel in other guests, including local broadcast personalities, Rhode Islandâs Michael Naylor from âAmazing Raceâ and Hana Ricna, former Czechoslovakian gymnast who now teaches at RISE.
Meadowbrook Farms Principal Ronald Areglado, who led a school assembly in a patriotic sing-along as they awaited Chafeeâs arrival in the gym, was also beaming.
?Itâs been a big day, and I canât thank the Meadowbrook community and Mrs. Wheeler enough. Itâs been extraordinary,â Areglado said.