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Ben and Candy Carson Photo by Gage Skidmore
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Carsons honor students with scholarships, reading room

REGION — It was a busy two days for Candy Carson.

The author and co-founder of the Carson Scholars Fund, who is also married to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, celebrated the opening of a reading room at the Scholarship Prep Charter School on May 7. A day earlier, on May 6, the Carsons together honored 234 scholarship recipients through their foundation at the Omni La Costa Spa & Resort in Carlsbad. For the school year, 1,369 students received a scholarship, Candy Carson said.

On May 7, she dedicated the reading room as an area for the students to put aside their worries and pick up a book.

“Before kids go down that irrevocable path, we help them start to think about the future,” Carson said. “What’s so cool is the ripple effect. Teachers have told us once they’ve had a Carson Scholar in their classroom, the next year the grade-point average of the whole class goes up because there is something special to shoot for.”

The room is a jungle theme, created by teachers Brandy Barker and Melody Rodriguez, and was designed to “transport” the students out of the classroom to allow their minds to wander into books. The teachers said it also sparks curiosity about where jungles are located and traveling to those destinations.

Barker and Rodriguez spent more than three months creating the room, which will feature children’s books, graphic novels, young adult literature plus a collection of Ben Carson’s books — he has three published.

Gloria Romero, co-founder of the school and former state senator, and fellow co-founder Jason Watts, said the school received a $25,000 grant to purchase books for transitional kindergarten through eighth-grade students.

Romero said the school, which is in its first year in Oceanside (there is another campus in Santa Ana) was notified about six months ago of the grant.

“It was a gift that was handed to us,” she said. “We had to purchase at least 1,000 books. What it shows is that reading is so important. This is a space that provides just for joy.”

On May 6, meanwhile, hundreds of students who applied for the scholarship were honored by the Carsons. First-time recipients, who are eligible at age 9 through their senior year of high school, receive $1,000, which is placed into a fund until they graduate.

The West Coast chapter is vast, as students from Montana, Colorado and other states joined their California peers. The purpose, Candy Carson said, is to inspire students to succeed academically and through community service. Students must maintain a 3.75 GPA and show volunteer or humanitarian work to be eligible.

The Carsons started the scholarships in 1996 and have provided scholarships to more than 8,000 students since then.

Candy Carson said her husband’s history of being labeled a “dummy” in elementary school inspired him to become a world-renowned pediatrician neurologist and the youngest ever director of a division in the history of Johns Hopkins Hospital at age 33. He also ran for president in 2016-17, but bowed out of the campaign and is now a cabinet member for President Donald Trump.

Candy Carson said the scholarships are a way for students to maximize their talents. She told both groups of students that with the population of India and China four times that of the U.S., it is imperative for students to strive for academic success so the country can remain competitive and the best in the world.

“We want you to be the best you can be,” she told the charter students. “You can be whatever you want to be.”