Health secretary comes to Murray

A Bandys High School graduate returned to Catawba County Schools on Wednesday — this time as a member of Gov. Bev Perdue's cabinet.

North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Lanier M. Cansler arrived at Webb A. Murray Elementary School for Read Across America Day, a national program to encourage reading among children.

Cansler spoke with third- and fourth-grade students about state government and read a chapter from a book about multiculturalism in the classroom.

Perdue asked Cansler and the rest of her cabinet to visit North Carolina school children during Read Across America. With Cansler's ties to Catawba County, he was happy to oblige.

Cansler attended Balls Creek Elementary School and graduated from Bandys in 1971 before attending Lenoir-Rhyne College.

"It's always a pleasure to come back," Cansler said.

He also has five grandchildren in Catawba County schools. His granddaughter, fourth-grader Parker Moraitis, is a student at Murray Elementary.

"We're very honored to have him here," said teacher Cynthia Blackburn, who helped coordinate Cansler's visit to her third- and fourth-grade combination class.

Cansler started discussion with an overview of his role as Heath and Human Services secretary.

"Probably every one of you has been impacted by health and human services at some point in your lives, whether you know it or not," Cansler told students.

Many of the children were surprised to learn that Cansler's department employs 18,000 people and has a budget of about $17 billion.

"I learned that people in government have really hard jobs," said fourth-grader Zoe Martin after hearing about Cansler's duties as secretary.

Perdue appointed Cansler to his secretary position in January 2009.

Prior to that, he served as deputy secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, as well as a congressman in the North Carolina House of Representatives in district 51.

Moraitis was happy to have her grandfather spend time in her Murray classroom.

"I'm proud of him," she said.

Cansler then read a chapter from "Holy Enchilada," a book by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver. After reading the book, Cansler donated it, along with goody bags from DHHS, to students.

Read Across America celebrates the birthday of Theodore Seuss Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, who created beloved books such as "The Cat in the Hat" and "Green Eggs and Ham." Schools across Catawba County celebrated Read Across America, including Oxford Elementary School in Claremont.

Conover Mayor Lee Moritz Jr. read to first-grade students in Beverley Pittman's class.

Moritz said he enjoyed reading to the students, who are Conover's future residents.

"When I asked 'What do you like best about Conover,'" Moritz said, "one little girl raised her hand and said, 'Because Conover is beautiful, and the people are sweet."