Inspiring LaBelle – One story at a time

Hugo Vargas from World Class Barbershop reads to Mrs. Huckabee’s kindergarten class. (Submitted photo)

Imagine my surprise when walking into Upthegrove Elementary and seeing teachers and students wearing mismatched socks. Literacy week has different events at the school and this was just one of many. Another is community reading where members of the community read to the students from kindergarten to fifth grade.

This year’s community members consisted of Stephanie Busin and Amanda Nelson from the school board; Judith Paskvan, Karen Roach and Margaret England from Kiwanis; Scott Cooper, Sherry Elliott and Lucinda Kelley were formerly or presently affiliated with the school system; Brenda Walker and Erwin Evans of Sodexo; Sargeant Schott of the Hendry County Sheriffs Office; a representative of the Hendry County Department of Elections; Linda Belepso of the Seminole Tribe of Florida; Rob Hill of the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers; Hugo Vargas, barber; Dr. LaSheba Travis, Director of Biomedical Services; Youth Minister Keyrone Reid; Phillip Keyes and George Haines, published authors; and Betty Wedeles, a published illustrator.

Having the honor to sit with the fifth graders, we listened as Phillip Keyes read a story that he wrote about a tree which he called Greenie that grew on the highest point of a mountain. He described the changing of the seasons and all the protection that Greenie gave to the different animals.

Then one day in the fall things changed with the coming of a fire. Daylight arrives with a near stampede of running animals. For their protection, Greenie begins to sway and shake his trunk and limbs so violently that no birds dared land on his branches and none of the animals stopped to rest next to his trunk.

The Great Ridge Fire as it comes to be known, eventually is controlled and extinguished by fire fighters, but not before hundreds of acres of forest land burns.

On a spring-like day a lone restless Blue Jay returns to the ridge where nothing moves and nothing is alive. He sadly recalls those wonderful days that he spent there. The Blue Jay knows he has to return to the forest that sheltered his family during the fire. After starting to leave three times, he finally launched himself into the air. He then turned for a final look. Even though the light is poor he can clearly see one tiny green sprig pushing itself up from the ashes on the exact spot where Greenie spent his life.

Mr. Keyes asked the students to think of a title for his story because it is unnamed. No definite decision was made but the students gave him some great written suggestions for the title.

In the past, every story had a moral and this one is no exception. Mr. Keyes then asked the students what they received from the story. One answer stood out among the many. One female student said this story shows a ray of hope! What great insight from one so young!

Jo can be reached at

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