A seventh-grade Greenbrier Middle School student has taken the initiative to encourage others to disconnect from technology by reading physical books.

"I noticed everyone's always on their phones and no one's ever reading books, so I thought that since ACT Aspire scores are lower than they should be, [others should] start reading more," 13-year-old Madelyn Larrimore told the Log Cabin Democrat.

Larrimore is a seventh grader at Greenbrier Middle School. The young Greenbrier resident also is enrolled in the district's EAST program.

The EAST program was piloted by Tim Stevenson at Greenbrier High School in the mid-1990s. Stevenson was working with at-risk youth at the district who were struggling through their studies. He created the alternative learning environment to instill self discipline and motivate students to think outside the box when he introduced the forward-thinking course during the 1995-96 school year.

Since then, current EAST facilitator Sandy White said the program has taken a new life.

Many students apply to take part in the program, and many are turned away due to the flux in interest. The program is now available at Greenbrier high, junior and middle schools.

To be accepted into the program, White said students must show they have the ability to go beyond the typical classroom setting and work toward making a difference.

"The EAST Initiative has really grown," she said. "Students [accepted] have to be self-directed learners. They have to be problem solvers [and] have to be able to think for themselves. They also have to have a good work ethic."

White's role in the program is different from instructors who lead students in a typical classroom setting.

"I am not a teacher. I am a facilitator," she said. "I help ask those questions: 'How are you going to do this? What software do you need? What hardware do you need?' I'm there to be a resource."

Students involved in the EAST program work alone or in groups as they seek out issues within their community and work to find ways to tackle said problems.

For Larrimore, an issue in need of resolution is to encourage others to put their cell phones and other electronics away more often.

The 13-year-old middle schooler said she hopes to encourage others to read physical books and lessen their screen time.

Reading comprehension at the school is lower than what it should be. Larrimore said she believes the school's test scores would rise if students spent more time reading.

Sixty percent of Greenbrier sixth graders are able to read on par or above a sixth-grade reading level. Sixty-four percent of seventh graders are reading at grade-level, according to recent testing results.

Larrimore reached out to the Log Cabin in hopes of obtaining older newspaper dispenser boxes so that she could bring new life to the decommissioned pieces. On Friday, the Greenbrier student, along with White, picked up three dispenser boxes that she plans to revamp with a new paint job — Panther blue. The boxes also will have a white panther paw painted onto them and will soon be stocked with books and placed at various locations across town.

The seventh-grade EAST student said she hopes that by providing access to a variety of literature — from genres that would appeal to young children to those that would peak an adult's interest — that area residents would begin using the library system of donated books frequently.

The EAST program helps students grow to their full potential, White said. Since the 2018-19 academic year began, the EAST facilitator said she has seen "tremendous growth" in Larrimore.

It's the most rewarding part of the educational process, she said.

"Seeing [Larrimore] grow as a student [is rewarding]," White said. "She’s not really out spoken in class; she’s real quiet and reserved. But to see her grow in her soft skills and her ability to call community partners and give her project pitch, that was huge student growth for her from the beginning of the school year."

The Log Cabin will continue following Larrimore as she brings this EAST project to life. The LCD will also follow-up on the program's history and success rates.