Schools welcome special visitor
Dollywood and the Dollywood Foundation sponsored an effort this past week to bring the gift of reading to every kindergarten student in Sevier County.
Representatives from the two groups traveled to every elementary school in the county to present each kindergarten student — 1,146 total — with bookends, and to give each classroom 10 books from Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, a free book distribution program that the Dollywood Foundation oversees.
"We have the library program where all these children have been getting a book a month at home since they enrolled. That's been our long-standing program here," said Dollywood Foundation President David Dotson. "I think the bookends make a nice finishing touch for the books that they've been receiving for five years."
The bookend gifts were presented unwrapped to most of the classrooms, but Jones Cove wanted to do something different. The 23 students in Whitney Dodgen's and Shelley Sayers' classes wondered what was inside the boxes that had their names on them.
"At every other school we presented (the bookends) and told the students about them, but this school wanted to wrap them and give them as presents," said Dollywood Publicity Coordinator Ashley Adams.
The wooden bookends were shaped like the locomotive in the logo for the Imagination Library, and separate into the engine and the caboose.
The two pieces slide along a wooden track that came in a smaller gift box. The track allows the owner to adjust the bookends to hold any number of books.
"Most importantly, this encourages reading," Adams said.
The surprise visits also featured Mrs. Claus, who read "A Visit from St. Nicholas" — also known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" — to the students. Many of the students had heard the story before, so they read along with Mrs. Claus.
"It was around Christmastime and we thought the perfect thing for bookends is to read a book, and who better than a Christmas character to read it," Adams said. "And we didn't want to just drop it off, we wanted to make a connection with the students and get them excited about it."
Dollywood and the foundation put on similar efforts each year, but this was the first year for this particular effort.
"We'll have to wait and see how the Christmas spirit inspires us next year," Dotson said. "We always try to do something special for our hometown."