<!-- @page { margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } -->The word goal has a double meaning in Becky Barton's fourth-grade classroom.

"I'm a huge Dallas Stars hockey fan," said Barton, whose classroom is decorated in the team colors of green and black all year long.

In fact, upon closer look, Dallas Stars posters, fan magazines and motivational quotes deck the room from floor to ceiling. Miniature hockey goals and kid sized sticks sit on a shelf.

"The kids get to play hockey if we have extra time and they've been good. I also let them watch game highlights for good behavior," said Barton of the much sought rewards.

In this atmosphere, it is fitting that Barton's class not only entered, but won the Dallas Stars "Stick With Reading" competition. The prize for the class with the most books read? A visit from the Dallas Stars to their classroom.

"They read 965 books, which is way more than I thought they could do," Barton admitted of her students, most of whom were sporting Dallas Stars shirts.

Although the contest challenged the kids to read more, the Stars are involved in every aspect of learning in Barton's class.

"For geography, we track the stars wherever they go. When they go to Canada, we find out where they are and study it," she said.


"How many of you thought that Dallas was a state before we started tracking the Stars on the map," she asked her kids. Eight raised their hands.

Road trip mileage, number of goals and even penalty minutes are often worked into math problems. Science lessons on speed, acceleration and resistance are brought to life when Barton puts them in the context of hockey, which the students understand because of their connection to the Stars.

"Hockey makes everything more interesting," said nine-year-old Abigail Garcia while she waited anxiously for Stars players Alex Goligoski and Ryan Garbutt to arrive last Friday afternoon. "I like the way we tie it into what we are learning."

When it comes to hockey and learning, Barton's creativity has no limits.

"I tell the kids that history is important. There is history in hockey. If a player does something illegal and gets put into the penalty box a lot, they have a history. I tell the kids that your history follows you and can come back to haunt you so make wise decisions now," she said.

In fact, former Star standout Steve Ott actually talked to Barton's class a few years back. Barton said she was trying to find solutions to kids who were impulsive and getting into fights. Ott, who spent plenty of time in the penalty box, explained to the kids that it's better to use your words and to avoid fighting because of the consequences.

"After that, I had a girl who pushed another kid. The class was deciding what her punishment should be. They gave her a choice — lunch detention for a week or write a letter to Steve Ott telling him what she did. She chose lunch detention," Barton laughed. "She did not want to disappoint Steve Ott."

Not only are the students learning through hockey, they are becoming true fans of the game.

"I took most of the class to a game earlier this year, and over Christmas break a group of us went and watched practice, which is free," she said. "We're going back in February."

When Goligoski, a defenseman, and Garbutt, a forward, finally did walk through the classroom door, the shrieks and screams of the excited kids kept ears ringing for several minutes. Students asked questions, got autographs and some even had the opportunity to read to their heroes.

One student asked the hockey stars if they like to read.

Goligoski, a University of Minnesota grad, and Garbutt, who earned a degree from Brown University, told the kids yes, and let them know that education is important, even for hockey players.

"We do this to get kids excited about reading," said Dallas Stars Foundation Coordinator Dana Swann, who was on hand to promote "Stick With Reading." "It helps to have their role models telling them how important reading is whether you are in school or a professional hockey player."

One of Barton's students, Jamon, enjoyed the "Stick With Reading" challenge so much, he read the most books in the class and even started a book club, complete with assignments and talking points for discussion group.

"There are nine of us in the club and more wanting to join when we do the next book," said Barton, noting the Dallas Stars has a hand in the success of her students.

"Following the Stars has grown into something big," said Barton. "It's turned into a great motivator for these kids to learn."