Superstars encourage students to read

Superstars encourage students to read

COMPTON, Calif. — As the doors to Mrs. Perry's fifth grade classroom swung open, student Johnny Hart's mouth opened wide. Hart couldn't believe his eyes. He frantically turned his head around to his classmates.

"Oh my God! That's MVP, of SmackDown," whispered Hart, in an attempt not to disrupt Perry's well-managed class environment.

SmackDown's highest-paid Superstar, wearing one of his signature Italian, tailor-made black suits, black Gucci shoes, black Cartier sunglasses, and enough "ice" around his neck and wrist to freeze Southern California, strutted into class with ECW Diva Layla by his side. The former United States Champion and 2006 Diva Search winner were at Robert F. Kennedy Elementary School to encourage students to read.

As part of the Read Across America initiative, MVP and Layla, both of whom will be spokespeople for WWE's WrestleMania 25 Reading Challenge, along with Mr. Kennedy, Matt Hardy and Mark Henry, read student-selected books in front of Mrs. Perry's, Mr. Brown's and Mrs. White's fifth grade classes. Students also got the opportunity to interact with MVP and Layla. In each class, a student was chosen to read passages with the Superstar and Diva. Hart, however, was given special attention.

Before kicking off the occasion, Layla asked if "there was anyone who likes to dance." Hart's peers pointed him out. The Diva asked Hart to dance with her, and he gladly accepted the opportunity. Layla was so impressed, she laid a peck on Hart's cheek.

"It's hard for me to describe my feelings, because I'm so excited. It was just such a cool experience to dance with Layla," Hart said with an ear-to-ear grin on his face.

In Perry's class, Jeanette Patlan nearly jumped out of her seat to volunteer to read The Gingerbread Man by Jim Alesworth with her favorite Superstar and Diva.

"I felt special being up there. It's a moment I'll never forget," recalled Patlan, who reads twice a day and is in the school's gifted and talented program. "It was a one chance only opportunity, so I took it … I'm a fan of The Gingerbread Man. It was a nice selection."

However, there was one student who voiced her dislike for Alesworth's book, calling it a "baby book."

"The more you know, the more you go [in life]," MVP told her and the rest of the class. "It doesn't matter what you like to read, as long as you do it. If you read a lot, the more you learn about people and places."

RFK students concurred with MVP and Layla's sentiments on the importance of reading.

"You need to read because all through your life, no matter what you're doing, you'll have to read. I love to read," said an ecstatic Tyler Simpson, who volunteered to read Parts by Tedd Arnold in front of White's class. "I want to be an actress when I grow up. In order to be a good actress, you have to be able to read your script well and have good reading skills."

SmackDown's longest-reigning United States Champion and the Diva from the Land of the Extreme  had one word for students who may try to emulate their favorite Superstars' wrestling moves at home or in the schoolyard: "Don't." MVP showed scars on his forehead, suffered by the hands of Kane, to drive home his point about the dangers of wrestling.

"Kids naturally want to play and be physical. That's an important part to being a kid, but they see what we do and they want to imitate us and they can get hurt easily. I don't want to see a kid get hurt trying to imitate me or trying to do something he or she has seen one of my peers do," MVP said.

Although the mission was to promote reading, MVP and Layla admitted the students inspired them as well. After teaching dance techniques to little girls in the courtyard, Layla decided she wanted to return to the school as a volunteer dance instructor.

"What better way to motivate kids than to have those they look up to come in to encourage them? I would've loved to have had that when I was kid. There are kids who think that there are much more important things they could be doing, instead of reading and learning. To know that they were influenced by us to do well makes me happy," said an emotional Layla.

For MVP, the experience took him back to his days as a youth. 

"Being here helped me remember to be mindful of my younger audience and the type of influence I have on them. It's not just 18-to-34-year-olds who love watching me. Everyone does," the Ballin' Superstar recalled. 

"I think reading is important. Not just for children, but for adults across the board. Knowledge is power. You've got to be smart," said MVP. 

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