Ravens player promotes reading at local school
Wednesday, 26 December 2012 11:48

Matt Birk speaks at Battle Grove

by Nicole Rodman

    Students, teachers and parents — most clad in purple and black — gathered last Tuesday, Dec. 18, as Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Matt Birk made a stop at Battle Grove Elementary School.
    Birk, along with representatives from Scholastic Book Fairs, visited the school to encourage students to read.
    The program was part of Birk’s HIKE (Hope, Inspiration, Knowledge and Education) Foundation.
    Founded by Birk in 2002, the non-profit group  works to provide children with education opportunities, both in and out of the classroom.
    Since the fall of 2010, one major initiative sponsored by the HIKE Foundation is “Ready, Set, Read.”
    As part of the initiative, Birk visits schools across the Baltimore area speaking to elementary school students about the importance of reading.
    Since the “Ready, Set, Read” program began, Birk has visited more than 150,000 children at schools in the region.
    Partnering with Scholastic Book Fairs, Birk was on hand at Battle Grove last Tuesday to promote reading and encourage students to visit the school’s book fair.

The day began with students being greeted by Clifford the Big Red Dog, star of the eponymous series of children’s books by Norman Bridwell.
    According to school staff, Clifford was portrayed by one teacher’s husband who volunteered to fill the role.
    Once all of the students, parents and teachers were inside the auditorium, the assembly was underway.
    Introducing Birk was fifth-grade student Larry Bryant, who greeted the football player with his own display of gridiron tactics.
    As Birk took the stage, to enthusiastic cheers and applause, he first had a question for the crowd.
    “Who loves the Ravens?,” Birk asked the excited audience.
    As the crowd roared, Birk smiled and asked, “Even though we’ve lost three games in a row?”
    The cheers grew louder as shouts of “Yes” came from the hundreds of assembled parents, teachers and students.
    Addressing the students at Battle Grove, Birk began by describing the various physical exercises he does as part of his football training.
    Comparing this type of training to reading, Birk explained that reading exercises a different muscle.
    “I love to read,” Birk told the students, adding, “Reading exercises your brain muscle.”
    Birk then went on to list the reasons that reading is both fun and necessary, even for a football player.
    “I’m like a really old man. I’m 36 years old,” Birk explained to gasps from the children and laughs from the adults.
    He continued, explaining that, though he plays football now, he only has a few years left on the field, after which he will need to find something else to do.
    “Because I read and did well at school, when I am done with football, I can do whatever I want,” explained Birk, who is a graduate of Harvard University.
    Following his remarks, Birk and Scholastic presented the school with 350 $5 vouchers for books at the book fair.
    As part of the HIKE program, each student at Battle Grove was allowed to select one book to take home with them.
    “You can read them over and over,” Birk explained, adding, “They’re yours.”
    Following Birk’s remarks, students from each grade at Battle Grove presented a display of gratitude to Birk.
    Kindergarten, first grade and second grade students recited a poem entitled “The More You Read.”
    Following this, a selection of video book reviews, recorded by fourth and fifth graders, played on a screen above the stage.
    The school’s third-, fourth- and fifth-grade classes also showed their gratitude, and purple pride, by singing a song called “RaveNation,” written by Baltimore-based hip-hop artist Mr. C-N.I.L.E. (Carl Bellamy).
    “We’re all part of the RaveNation. We bring you that purple pain,” students sang as Birk smiled broadly.
    Finally, a slideshow of students in their Ravens gear over the course of the school year capped off the event.
    As the assembly ended and students headed back to their classrooms, the excited chatter of kids, teachers and parents made clear that this was a day none will soon forget.