A chance to spend an hour with Texans running back Arian Foster incited a reading frenzy this semester among students at Pasadena Memorial High School. A chance to make an impact on those students' lives life made Foster jump at the chance to participate.
Foster met with a group of 100 high-achieving students on Wednesday at the school, located 20 miles southeast of Houston.
"Hopefully, I inspired some of them," Foster said. "That's my goal as an athlete is to kind of move people. I have a little bit of a limelight surrounding me, so I would like to make it a positive light in any aspect. Hopefully I reached somebody today, even at least if it was one of them, to go after what they dream for."
Foster spoke to the students for about 15 minutes in the school library, then spent a full half-hour answering their questions. An avid writer and a philosophy major in college, he also read them one of his poems, "I Miss You Like the Sunrise," at the students' beckoning. Foster then signed autographs for everybody there, including faculty members.
"I'd shared Arian's poem in class, so that was really neat for them to hear him read it," said English teacher Jan Connolly, a co-chair of the literacy initiative who spearheaded the effort to bring Foster to campus. "Something that we love outside of school, to bring it into school just made it awesome."
Foster's appearance at the school was the product of a literary initiative at Pasadena Memorial that faculty members started two years ago, an effort aimed at improving critical reading scores on campus.
"We have 15 minutes each day where the students stop their normal classroom activity and read books of their choosing," said Blake Emmons, an economics teacher and co-chair of the literary initiative. "We track the pages that the students read from one six weeks to the next and over the course of the school year, and (we) have seen significant improvements in critical reading on our campus as a result of the critical reading initiative."
The school collaborated with the Texans to kick their literacy initiative into high gear through a contest for high-achieving students. Classes that showed the most improvement in total pages read over a six-week period earned the chance to meet with Foster, the NFL's leading rusher through 12 games this season.
"A lot of our students don't have the opportunity to go to the Texans games, and so having the opportunity to meet one of their idols that they see on TV on a weekly basis was a great motivating factor for the students," Emmons said.
Connolly, a member of the Texans' Bull Pen Pep Band, first contacted the Texans about getting a player to come for the visit. She had been using Foster's poetry and Words of Wisdom on HoustonTexans.com to promote reading to her students.
"Of course when we told them we were going to have a Texan visit and reading was what got you here, I had kids in my room personally that probably had not read a whole lot, but they were reading," Connolly said. "I had no one in my room with less than 1,200 pages. They were reading to get here to meet a Texan.
"I said, guys, I can ask – I can't promise, but I can ask. I did request Arian, and I obviously never thought it would happen because it's Arian Foster, for goodness sakes. But we got him, and he came. I kept calling and making sure that it was OK. It worked out (and was) totally awesome. The kids are ecstatic. Some of the adults are up there ecstatic as well. It's all about reading and positive rewards for the kids.
"I want to thank the Texans organization for having the players available to make visits out into the community and enabling them to positively affect so many young lives. (Foster's) speech was more than I could have asked for. He was open, honest, and extremely informative. The students will be talking about this for a long time. He made a tremendous difference. The Texans made a difference."