NEW PALESTINE — Standing with their backs to the classroom door, unaware of the special guests walking in, the third-graders in Angie Merritt’s class at Sugar Creek Elementary School got a hint when they heard the heavy panting.
They were happily surprised and jumped for joy when they turned to see Butler Blue III, the bulldog mascot for Butler University, standing in their classroom with his handler, Michael Kaltenmark.
The two had been invited to the school to take part in Merritt’s Mystery Reader program. In an effort to make reading fun for her students, Merritt allows each of the kids in her class to invite someone special into the classroom to read a book to the students.
Third-grader Emily Hunter’s father, Ben Hunter, works at Butler University, and to his daughter’s and her classmates’ surprise, he arranged for Blue III – or “Trip” for short, as he is also known – to visit the classroom. Kaltenmark, the director of external relations at Butler, read the book, “Good Boy Blue,” the story of the school’s mascot.
“This book has been pretty popular, so we thought having him (Blue) come here to be part of the Mystery Reader would be fun,” Emily’s dad said.
When the students turned around to see Blue, he was immediately surrounded by the dog-loving third-graders. His handler explained that while he read the book to them, Blue would have to wait in the hall. It seems Blue gets a little too loud when he hears Kaltenmark read to students.
“He likes to bark the whole time I’m reading,” Kaltenmark said. “But, talk about the ultimate Mystery Reader … it has to be Trip.”
“Trip” is short for “triple,” with Blue being third in a line of English bulldogs that have served as mascots, Kaltenmark explained to the students.
After reading the book about Blue to the kids, Kaltenmark answered a few questions about the dog before allowing him back into the room, where he quickly stole the show while visiting and doing tricks.
After they each had a chance to pet the 2-year-old, 61-pound bulldog and take a photo of him with their iPads, the class posed for a group picture with the popular pooch.
“He’s awesome,” third-grader Evan Stackhouse said. “He’s been our best mystery reader so far.”
Emily said she had no idea Blue was coming to her class and that her father had done a good job of hiding the surprise from her.
“I was very excited,” Emily said after giving her father a huge hug for setting up what she called the best-ever mystery reader.
Merritt said events like this will help young children have positive memories of reading as they grow up.
“It’s all about the reading,” Merritt said. “I had them write their friendly letters to a person of their choice to ask them to come in and read, and the excitement is the surprise. They never know if it’s their person or not.”
Of course, this time, there was an even bigger surprise when all the students turned to see Blue III. While he slobbered a little bit, it was well worth it. Kaltenmark left the students each a Blue III book marker, a signed copy of the book, “Good Boy Blue,” and a few posters of Blue to hang in the classroom and the school’s library.