Justin Abdelkader read Lisa Wheeler's "Dino Hockey" to Drummond Island Elementary students inside the Red Wings' locker room Thursday afternoon. (Photo by Michael Caples/MiHockey)

Drummond Island kids leave at 3 a.m. for Detroit field trip with Justin Abdelkader

By @MichaelCaples –

DETROIT – Stacy Geyer said her students were excited to see the traffic heading into Detroit Thursday morning.

When you live on an island in the Upper Peninsula, you don’t often trucks crowding four-lane highways.

Geyer, a first and second-grade teacher at Drummond Islander Elementary, orchestrated a school-wide participation in the “Red Wings for Reading” program.

With a 100-percent participation rate among their 40 students, Drummond Island won the annual program’s grand prize – this year being a tour of Little Caesars Arena and program creator Justin Abdelkader reading a book to them inside the Red Wings’ locker room.

The 350-mile distance didn’t keep the Drummond kids from making the trip down to Hockeytown.

Photo by Michael Caples/MiHockey

 

“[Red Wings community relations manager] Anne Bowlby got ahold of us and said, ‘congratulations, you guys won, let’s have a chat.’” Geyer said. “I called her and she said, ‘here are your choices, depending on how the season goes. Justin can come up there possibly, you can come down here but we know it’s a long drive,’ and there was another choice that I can’t even remember now.’ So I said to the other teachers, we could have him come up, which would be really cool to have Justin come up to Drummond Island, or we can give these kids an experience that they will never, ever probably have in their lifetime.

“With that being said, we talked to our principal, superintendent and parent volunteer group who donated some of the money for the cost to get down here, and we decided; would it be feasible to spend the night? Do we make the trip in one day? That’s a lot of kids to spend the night, so we decided to try to do the trip in one day. With the buses only being able to go 65 on I-75, we figured it would be about seven hours, so, tallying back with a couple stops along the way, we decided on 3 a.m. boat. Parents had their kids at the boat by 10 to 3, and the boat took off at 3 o’clock, and here we are. We only had to make two stops, so we were pretty impressed.”



Photos by Michael Caples/MiHockey

The Red Wings made sure that the trip would be worthwhile for the kids. After a tour of LCA and a book reading/question-answer session with Abdelkader, the Drummond Island brigade had lunch in the Comerica Player’s Club outside the locker room and then they were planning on making the walk to Comerica Park for the Detroit Tigers afternoon game against the Los Angeles Angels.

“Pulling into Detroit, you should have heard them,” Geyer said. “They were like, oh my gosh, look at that building. Even the traffic, the trucks; going down 75, I think that was one of the most exciting things, they were, of course, doing the whole honk the trucks thing. A lot of the kids have never been to a baseball game, been to the arena or see a hockey game…been below the bridge even. This has just been awe-inspiring.”

They certainly earned the respect of the Red Wings’ assistant captain. Abdelkader said he was impressed with both the students and their teachers/chaperons for making the journey.

“It’s amazing,” the Muskegon native and Michigan State graduate said. “Getting up at 3 a.m. and taking the fairy and then taking the bus down and being here by 11, gosh, I know the kids, the parents, everyone, they’re probably a little tired but that’s what’s really cool about the reading program and when I found out that Drummond Island had won, just really excited to have a school five-ish hours away and for them to want to come down here to Detroit, obviously helping set up the Tigers game and them making a full day out of it, it’s been really, really awesome. It just speaks to the commitment and the fans and the school and parents and chaperons that made it happen.”

The “Red Wings for Reading” program – sponsored by the Michigan Education Savings Program – has been in operation for six years now, and it’s still a passion project for Abdelkader, the son of two educators. The program encourages students anywhere in Michigan to read three or more books for the age group – books selected by No. 8 – or have someone read the books to them. More than 245 schools participated in the reading program this past season, and aside from the Drummond Island participants, 40 other students were randomly selected to attend a Red Wings game in March as part of “Abby’s All Stars” program.

Drummond Island Elementary is also receiving more than $2,500 to put towards the school’s library, and they’re taking home some Red Wings chairs to be able to create indoor or outdoor reading environments for the kids.

“I think it’s important that at a young age, we can be such role models and influencers and reading is so important for continued education, no matter what you’re going to do when you grow up,” Abdelkader said. “It’s an important habit to start when you’re younger, and there’s so much learning at a young age. I’m just trying to use my influence and help these kids advance for sure.”

 

MiHockey Staff

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