This Is Carolina: Loris principal’s inspiration sparks heartwarming gift

Published: May. 4, 2023 at 6:39 PM EDT
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LORIS, S.C. (WMBF) - Loris Middle School Principal Kelly Shaw runs her school with intention, by giving back to the hometown that gave so much to her, and it started with books.

“It was just a way of escape for me. I can go into a book and just everything around me just goes away,” said Shaw.

Kelly said she was able to enjoy reading books all thanks to her teacher.

“She brought the library to me and she gave me access in a way that I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” Shaw said.

The principal shared her story with staff at the beginning of the school year and it inspired John Petrill to write his own.

“She told a story about how when she was a child, teachers in Loris used to give her books and that inspired her to be who she is today,” said Petrill. “It’s something that I wanted to do. Just to make a difference.”

The social studies teacher applied for the First Book of Horry County grant to try and score free books for his classes.

“If I could get something for them or change one of them or a whole bunch of them into more Ms. Shaws, I think the world would be a better place,” he said.

But, his novel idea turned into a real page-turner. The national nonprofit more than doubled the amount. All 800 students received two brand new books that Petrill unveiled during recess.

“Not only was I helping out my students, but I was going to help out all the students in the school. When they found out they were free, they were really, really surprised and they were grateful to get the books,” Petrill said.

Kyleigh Hemmingway, Gage Elliot and Shahari Gordon said they loved their sixth-grade teacher’s surprise and enjoyed choosing from the stacks of quality literature that included fiction, non-fiction, sports and more.

“I always read the first line of the book and if it’s interesting then I’ll keep reading. So, I was like opening books and closing them and walking around the table until I found something,” said Gordon.

“I was shocked and confused because I didn’t expect a school to give out free books like that,” said Elliot.

“It’s a big deal for us to get books that we can take home and read,” said Hemmingway.

The group said not only do they relish a good book, but they also understand the benefits.

“In life, you’re going to have to read a lot, so it’s very important to read,” said Hemmingway.

“It’s fundamental to education and it’s important to read and also, it’s fun. You can really get into it if you start reading,” said Gordon.

The students said they can’t wait to flip through the pages of their new novels, all thanks to a very special teacher.

“He’s really nice for doing that and he’s the type of teacher that would do stuff for the kids just because it helps them,” said Gordon.

“Mr. Petrill is super generous for actually giving us the books and having the ability to read and it’s just super nice of him,” said Elliot.

Petrill was nearby his students during their interview and started tearing up after hearing what they said.

“I’m proud of them. I’m happy that I made a difference to them and I’m happy that I can do something not only for them, but for the Loris community,” he said.

“What may have been a few hours or a few days of writing a grant for him, is a lifetime of change for those kids,” said Shaw.

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