Anthony Hemmitt was sitting in his third grade classroom at Pleasant Valley Elementary School, paying attention to his teacher, Mrs. Wolf, when the door opened and his mom, Chereen Hemmitt, sister Jennifer, 22, and two brothers, 7th grader Andre and Aaron, 21 months old, walked in along with his principal, Penny Derr, and assistant principal, Joshua Krebs.
The look on his face registered surprise and maybe a little bit of "Oh, oh. What did I do wrong?"
Mrs. Wolf asked her students why it was important to read. The students responded with answers like, "It makes you smart."
Then she asked how many of them liked to read Garfield, the famous comic strip cat, and almost all hands went up in the air. Then she asked, "Who really likes reading Garfield the most?" and almost all responded with a hearty "Anthony!"
"Remember I said I had a surprise today?" she asked. "Anthony, would you please come up here?"
Anthony stood next to Mrs. Wolf and she turned him to face the Smart Board where a presentation was about to begin and then there was Garfield, wearing a mortar board and holding a pointer, looking like a professor, on the screen. And the biggest surprise to Anthony was, Professor Garfield had a message to him personally, even using his name.
After the short presentation, Mrs. Wolf told Anthony and the class that the author and illustrator of Garfield, Jim Davis, sent a special package to Anthony for being such a huge fan. She presented to him a stuffed Garfield, an autographed copy of "Garfield Weighs His Options," and handwritten notes from Jim Davis and Bob Levy (the Director of Educational and Online Initiatives for Paws Incorporated and supervises all online programs and services that address the millions of Garfield fans worldwide.)
The note from Jim Davis says, "To Anthony, Ms. Wolf is very proud of you! Thanks for being a fan! Jim Davis."
The note from Bob Levy says, "Hi Anthony, I hope you enjoy these things from everyone at PAWS. Best Wishes, Bob Levy."
Paws, Inc. is the company Jim Davis formed to own, manage and direct the worldwide "Garfield" entertainment property. Garfield made his comic strip debut in 1978 and is the most widely syndicated comic strip in the world, reaching over 100 countries.
Davis developed Professor Garfield in 2003 as a learning portal, a way to blend humor with the power of the Internet as an educational tool. He knew that three key ingredients were necessary to establish a solid foundation for the effort:
*Creative, humorous elements to engage the attention of learners.
*A nationally prominent educational institution to provide expertise in educational content, delivery, and assessment.
Garfield filled the requirements of the first element.
For the second and third elements, Davis looked no further than his alma mater, Ball State University. Between the combined technology capacity of Paws, Inc. and Ball State University, Professor Garfield has become an excellent educational icon for children of all ages.
Anthony's mother, Chereen Hemmitt of Saylorsburg says she is speechless at what occurred.
"I owe it all to Mrs. Wolf. She encourages Anthony wherever she can. Garfield encourages him to read and makes him love reading more. He reads every night and brings his Garfield books to school."
Mrs. Hemmitt says that Anthony wasn't really into reading until his older brother, Andre brought him some Garfield books home from the library last year. He was hooked. But she didn't encourage it because she thought Garfield was just too silly.
"In the beginning of this school year, Mrs. Wolf noticed how much he enjoyed reading Garfield and she encouraged him to read more of him. She explained to me that it didn't matter what he read, as long as he was reading and enjoying it. So, I bought him Volume I, Volume II and he's read them all. I just bought him Volume III. He reads all the time now. When he goes to bed, he hears me coming and he hides his Garfield book under the covers because he knows it's time to turn out the light and go to sleep," she smiles.
Because Anthony loves Garfield so much and talks about him to his classmates, he got several of them to begin reading Garfield, too. All of which Mrs. Wolf encourages.
"If there's any kind of connection, I like to focus on that."
After the presentation, Anthony was surrounded by his classmates who all wanted to look at his new treasures.
Anthony says it was an "awesome" experience, but kind of "weird" too.
"It was weird because I didn't know how he (Jim Davis) knew about me," he says with wonder.
Garfield's creator learned about Anthony through Mrs. Wolf's brother-in-law, John Hyde.
One day Kristin Wolf was talking to her brother-in-law, a dean of career services at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT). He shared with her a program called Professor Garfield that had been introduced to New York school districts. She told him about Anthony and how much he loved Garfield. She asked him if he would be able to get her in contact with the program. He did just that through the Director of NYIT's Stan Silverman.
Soon after, she received an email from Levy of Paws, Inc.
When Levy heard about Anthony and is devotion to Garfield, he relayed the information to Jim Davis. They saw to it that the special package to Anthony was delivered to PVE for him.
"Anthony was beyond excited. This kind of acknowledgment is something that can change a kid, and I think this may have done that for Anthony. Anthony is a special child who has completely captured my heart," says Mrs. Wolf after the presentation.
Later Mrs. Wolf pulled up Professor Garfield on the classroom's Smart Board and began exploring all the wonderful games and activities with her students.
"It was really great. Our favorite was the Reading Ring. The kids didn't even realize how many literacy skills they were practicing while playing this game. I guarantee this is something they will share at home with their families and friends. The motivation was 'through the roof.' I will continue to use this as part of my instruction," she says.
Penny Derr, PVE's principal says, "Mrs. Wolf is a very special teacher who cares deeply about each one of her students. She is concerned with encouraging them to be life-long learners who enjoy the learning process. She works very hard to determine students' individual interests, which helps to engage them in the educational process. Discovering that Anthony liked Garfield was a huge breakthrough in influencing his desire to read. She is a wonderful third grade teacher."
Joshua Krebs, PVE's assistant principal says, "I am always amazed by the creativity and thoughtfulness teachers like Mrs. Wolf demonstrate each day to motivate and inspire students."
As for Anthony, he says he is Garfield's biggest fan by "100,000 percent."
He couldn't wait until he got home to read his new autographed Garfield book.
"I'm going to read it and read it and read it ..."
He says that his special package from Jim Davis, Bob Levy and Garfield "Makes me feel like there is no bigger fan of Garfield than me."
(If you log on to www.professorgarfield.org, you can have your child visit Professor Garfield's Comics Lab, Reading Ring, Art-Bot, Music-Bot, Transport to Reading, G-Cubed, Comics Lab Extreme, SparkTop, Knowledge Box Kids, Sleep Center and Brain Busters where they can learn how to draw, play games, participate in reading exercises and even create their own graphic novel with the help of Garfield.)