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Gwinnett students participate in international reading event

Grayson High senior wide receiver Christian Smith reads to students on Thursday in Laura Marks’ kindergarten class at Trip Elementary. Smith and the students read “Otis” by New York Times best-selling author Loren Long as part of “Read for the Record” an annual event for children around the world who read the same book to encourage early literacy. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

Grayson High senior wide receiver Christian Smith reads to students on Thursday in Laura Marks’ kindergarten class at Trip Elementary. Smith and the students read “Otis” by New York Times best-selling author Loren Long as part of “Read for the Record” an annual event for children around the world who read the same book to encourage early literacy. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

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Trip Elementary kindergarteners Nathen Cantres, left, Avery Harrelson and Chadburne Woolcock listen to Grayson High wide receiver Christian Smith read the children’s book “Otis” to them as part of “Read for the Record” day, an international program to encourage early literacy. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

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Bryson Edwards, left, and Bradley Hutcheson raise their hands to ask questions after Grayson High senior wide receiver Christian Smith read the book “Otis” to their kindergarten class at Trip Elementary as part of a “Read for the Record” event. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

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Grayson High senior Austin Hamilton reads the book “Otis” on Thursday to Christie Stewart’s kindergarten class at Trip Elementary as part of an international “Read for the Record” event to encourage early literacy. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

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Kindergarten students in Laura Marks’ class at Trip Elementary on Thursday gather around Grayson High senior Christian Smith as he autographs the book “Otis” after he read it to them as part of an international “Read for the Record” event to encourage early literacy. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

GRAYSON — It wasn’t a typical day at Trip Elementary on Thursday, and kindergarten teacher Laura Marks took note.

“You see how great they’re listening,” she said as her students gathered around a Grayson High football player. “They don’t listen that well for me.”

The students were focused on Grayson senior Christian Smith, a wide receiver on the football team, who along with a dozen teammates visited kindergarten and first-grade classrooms at Trip for an international reading event called “Read for the Record.” Pre-kindergarten through first-grade students from all over the world on the same day read the same book, “Otis,” by best-selling New York Times author Loren Long.

The book is about life on a farm for an aging tractor and how it befriends, and rescues, a calf.

“This is the highlight for their day, their week, maybe even their year,” Trip assistant principal Virin Vedder told the football players when they arrived at the school. “This is where you can be true role models and showcase not just your athletic ability, but your literacy.”

Read for the Record is put on by Jumpstart, which promotes early childhood programs, and the Pearson Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes literacy, learning and teaching. This year the program aimed to have a record-breaking number of children and adults read “Otis.”

Schools across Gwinnett County Public Schools participated in the event as parents, community members and other volunteers visited classrooms. Nesbit Elementary Principal Clayborn Knight also read the book on GCPS-TV. Each classroom that participated received a donated copy of “Otis,” and at Trip that included autographs from the football players.

“They look up to them big time,” Marks said. “They’ll talk about it for the rest of the day. It makes this a very special day. It changes everything.”

Many of the students welcomed the Grayson football players with big smiles, wide eyes and were excited to see their version of a celebrity up close.

“It was really surprising how much they love me and love Grayson football,” Grayson senior Austin Hamilton said. “(They said) ‘We know who you are, we see you all the time.’”

Jaiquan Brown, another Grayson senior, said he could see the community connection among the students, who were eager to follow the story.

“They were into it, asking questions, trying to guess what happened next,” Brown said. “After the book was over, they were asking questions, and they’re smart kids. Our generation is going to be so awesome, when they get to high school, I just know it.”