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Florida first lady, ‘Pierre the Penguin’ captivate young students

Published:   |   Updated: January 15, 2014 at 05:21 PM

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TARPON SPRINGS — The second-graders in Rosa Tarver’s and Denise Americano’s classes were overwhelmed when Florida first lady Ann Scott’s entourage entered their classroom at Tarpon Springs Elementary School Wednesday morning.

However, once she started reading “Pierre the Penguin” in a sing-song voice, the whispering, fidgeting and curious glances across the room ceased. They were entranced.

“She’s really nice for a first lady,” said Tye Wallace, an 8-year-old aspiring football player. “I like to read a lot of comic books or funny books like the book she read about the bald penguin. I learned that penguins lose their feathers.”

Tarpon Springs was the fourth stop on Scott’s annual, statewide Literacy Tour for Florida’s Celebrate Literacy Week. This year’s theme, “Reading Accelerates Success,” connects the value of literacy with careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Scott will stop by seven schools on her tour, and has read to elementary, middle and high school students at more than 100 schools across the state since she started her literacy initiatives two weeks after Rick Scott became governor in 2011.

“It’s easy to get the elementary kids excited about reading,” Scott said. “It gets harder once they become middle schoolers or high schoolers and they’re struggling to figure out how to fit in and it’s not always cool to read. I asked who loves reading in a middle school class yesterday and only one student raised their hand, but once you start reading to them you can see that everyone loves hearing stories. You just have to hook them when they’re young.”

Scott’s love of literature started with Jane Austen novels, and then grew as she read to her children and grandchildren, she said. Most of Tarpon Springs elementary’s students were less impressed with hearing about her role as first lady than they were with hearing stories of her family and looking at the pictures she kept handy in a thick green folder. Encouraging families to read together is key to student success and hitting her goal to have Florida students read for a collective 33 million minutes this year, she said.

“It’s all about connecting with them and encouraging them,” Scott said.

Following her reading session with local schoolchildren, Scott met with Mayor David Archie and other city officials and representatives. The mayor presented Scott a key to the city, something the first lady said she has never personally received on other visits around the state.

“I am honored to add the city of Tarpon Springs key – my first – to the Florida Governor’s Mansion’s collection,” said Scott, according to a press release from the city. “It will serve as fond reminder of this visit to Tarpon Springs and the wonderful students, teachers and staff I met today at Tarpon Springs Elementary School and I look forward to sharing it with our visitors.”

“I am thrilled that First Lady Scott chose to tour Tarpon Springs Elementary School and read to six classes during her Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! tour,” Archie said about the visit. “Governor and First Lady Scott have an open invitation to visit our great city any time.”

Suncoast News reporter Eric Horchy contributed to this article.

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