Former first lady Laura Bush visits Arlington district school with NBA players

GRAND PRAIRIE -- The NBA and WNBA greats filling a cafeteria stage at Farrell Elementary on Wednesday weren't there to talk about basketball stats or championship games.

Instead, their focus was reading. Former first lady Laura Bush even joined them at the Arlington district campus in Grand Prairie to reinforce the message.

"It's the most important skill you learn in school," Bush, a former librarian, told the students. "If you can read, you can do well in every single subject."

The celebrity visitors were part of the NBA Cares All-Star Community Caravan, a series of service events in conjunction with the All-Star Game. The NBA plans to have 25 such events and programs in North Texas this year.

Arlington district officials and representatives from the Mavericks and the National Basketball Association have worked together for months to create a Reading and Learning Center in Farrell's library.

The project, sponsored by the NBA, Hewlett-Packard and the Got Milk? ad campaign, included new books, carpet and furniture. The Mavericks theme showed up in everything from the blue and black beanbag chairs to the life-size Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki decals on the wall.

The school also received 12 new HP computers with large touch screens, three laptops and three printers.

'Read All About It'

"It's cool and awesome and beautiful," said Jada Castillo, a second-grader.

Jada and 29 other first- through third-graders were treated to a book reading by Bush, Terry and retired NBA player Dikembe Mutombo in the library after the "reading rally" in the cafeteria. They took turns reading from Read All About It!, which Bush wrote with daughter Jenna.

Terry called the new library "phenomenal" and said he enjoyed spending time with the students. "You see the smiles on their faces and the excitement. To know that they have somewhere they can come and enjoy these books, that means a lot," he said.

In other classrooms throughout the school, players like Ashley Robinson of the WNBA, who grew up in Grand Prairie, and Felipe Lopez, formerly of the NBA, also read to students.

Farrell was one of three Arlington elementary schools chosen at random for the NBA to be considered for the library renovation. It is the district's first Title I school to receive a state rating of exemplary. Title I schools receive extra federal money to address the needs of their high percentage of low-income students. Sixty-two percent of Farrell's students qualify for free and reduced-rate lunches.

Other events

Principal Jeanne Pakele-Curtis said the community support from the NBA and other sponsors makes the students feel their hard work is appreciated.

"It's a blessing. It's an honor," she said.

NBA Cares' other community service events this week include fitness clinics at local Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs and a vaccine clinic at a Fort Worth campus, both today.

On Friday, numerous NBA players and family members will fan out throughout Dallas and at Arlington's Summit International Preparatory school for the NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service. On Friday evening, about 700 Arlington seventh-graders will get a free trip to the NBA's T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam.

TRACI SHURLEY, 817-390-7641