Kelli Hooks, speech pathologist at Andre Lucas Elementary School, loads gift baskets of books into the back of a vehicle March 5 in the school’s parking lot. The Prize Patrol Team gifted baskets to 16 winning students as part of the school’s Read Across America Week celebration.
1 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Kelli Hooks, speech pathologist at Andre Lucas Elementary School, loads gift baskets of books into the back of a vehicle March 5 in the school’s parking lot. The Prize Patrol Team gifted baskets to 16 winning students as part of the school’s Read Across America Week celebration. (Photo Credit: Mari-Alice Jasper) VIEW ORIGINAL
Zoe Callan, fifth grade student at Andre Lucas Elementary School, smiles with glee March 5 as Steven Gardner, the school’s principal, hands her a gift basket full of books. Zoe’s mom, Tamara Callan, watches as the excitement unfolds.
2 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Zoe Callan, fifth grade student at Andre Lucas Elementary School, smiles with glee March 5 as Steven Gardner, the school’s principal, hands her a gift basket full of books. Zoe’s mom, Tamara Callan, watches as the excitement unfolds. (Photo Credit: Mari-Alice Jasper) VIEW ORIGINAL
Kynlee Barber shouts with joy March 5 when her mom, Ashlee Beasley, opens the door for the Cat in the Hat and Thing 1. Barber is a third grade student at Andre Lucas Elementary School.
3 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Kynlee Barber shouts with joy March 5 when her mom, Ashlee Beasley, opens the door for the Cat in the Hat and Thing 1. Barber is a third grade student at Andre Lucas Elementary School. (Photo Credit: Mari-Alice Jasper) VIEW ORIGINAL
Braydon, left, and Hunter Bryant, accept a basket of books from the Cat in the Hat March 5 when the Prize Patrol Team from Andre Lucas Elementary School showed up at their house. Braydon is a third grade student, while his younger brother is in the second grade.
4 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Braydon, left, and Hunter Bryant, accept a basket of books from the Cat in the Hat March 5 when the Prize Patrol Team from Andre Lucas Elementary School showed up at their house. Braydon is a third grade student, while his younger brother is in the second grade. (Photo Credit: Mari-Alice Jasper) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – A motorcade of teachers and staff, known as the Prize Patrol Team, paraded their decorated vehicles through Fort Campbell’s neighborhoods, honking their horns and clanging cowbells while cheering for their students.

The team stopped at 16 students’ homes as the culminating event celebrating Read Across America Week. The week is an annual observance established by the National Education Association. The goal of this initiative is to get children excited about reading.

Steven Gardner, principal, Andre Lucas, said the school hosted a full week of different activities including inviting guests to read for the children. Although some programs were limited because of COVID-19 safety precautions, Gardner said the Prize Patrol Team was a top priority. This is the third year the Prize Patrol Team has showered winning students with books.

For the drawing, the names of all the school’s students were put into a big hat. Then, winners were randomly selected.

The school’s Parent Teacher Organization was heavily involved in the program. The PTO put about $1,000 toward purchasing books for the gift baskets. Then, the PTO was presented with a $1,500 grant from the Federal Education Association to continue purchasing books for the giveaway.

When the Prize Patrol Team stopped at Kynlee Barber’s home, the third grade student shook with excitement. Eagerly, she unwrapped the basket and dug into the books. Some thin, quick reads, while others were chunky chapter books.

She quickly thumbed through a few selections, taking in the titles.

“I like reading because when you are reading you can visualize the pictures,” Kynlee said. “In a chapter book, it’s like an adventure. You imagine the adventure.”

With her nose already in a book, Kynlee said she was grateful for the gift.

“All I can say is thank you,” she said.

Gardner said it’s important to keep that passion for reading alive, even when facing a tough curriculum.

“If we are not careful, we can destroy the love of reading,” he said. “We encourage children to read on their own and read what interests them. We want that love of reading and we want to instill that in children so they can take that on into adulthood and be lifelong learners.”

Torri Kalm, fifth grade teacher, Andre Lucas, said reading is the foundation of all learning. It’s imperative students start building those cornerstones at an early age, because it sets them up for success in the long run.

“By starting them young and exposing them to books, it really starts to develop that interest and love for reading so that when they do get to us (in the fifth grade), they love it and they are solid,” Kalm said. “They are ready to tackle bigger, more complex problems.”

The event was a little silly, but that’s something that makes this unique tradition so special, she said.

“We want the students to see learning is fun. It’s not all about sitting at a desk and doing a worksheet,” Kalm said. “It’s about us as educators, getting out there and loving what we do. This is a way to keep the students engaged.”

In light of COVID-19, Kalm said this kind of fun is exactly what children need, especially in a military community.

“Half of these kids are in a transition period already, so then you add COVID-19 on top of that,” she said. “Normalcy is still here and we can keep on doing these traditions even though we’ve had to modify how we do them. We want to bring some peace to them, but also to us, and some fun.”

Above everything else, Kalm said the event was a chance for everyone to show the students just how much they are cherished.