MANATEE COUNTY — Selena St. Fleur’s eyes went wide, and her lips curled into a smile as Lakewood Ranch High School senior Clint Thum literally roped her and a few classmates in the hallway at Freedom Elementary School.
The girls were beside themselves with giggles. Not only were they having fun, but they also were getting hands-on lessons in life and in literature during the annual Winnie the Pooh and Shakespeare Too program April 30.
The program, also called Kiddie Lit Day, is a literacy program that started well more than a decade ago between Southeast High School and Bashaw Elementary School. Lakewood Ranch joined the program when it had its first senior class and has been going strong ever since.
“For the high school students, it reinforces the fact that writing something good is a hard process,” said Candice DeLazzer, a senior English teacher at Lakewood Ranch and program coordinator. “We (also) want for these seniors, when they become parents, to realize how important it is to give their children the gift of literacy from the very beginning.”
About 300 Lakewood seniors began work on the project during the second semester of school, first writing a paper on the importance of reading and the value of lessons taught through literature, among other topics. About a month ago, the students began writing a children’s book, each for a specific grade level. Students also had to develop several games, including a writing exercise, to accompany the story and reinforce the skills or lessons taught in the book, before presenting their projects to children in kindergarten through fifth grades at Freedom and in kindergarten and first grades at Bashaw elementary schools April 30.
“This is an amazing project,” Freedom Principal Jim Mennes said. “It’s such a neat learning experience for our kids. It really takes education to the next level. The kids are blue. They are just so into this.”
While high school students hoped their stories would inspire children and them valuable life lessons, several made special efforts to bring the story to life.
For example, Lakewood senior Jake Mullery dressed the part of the main character in the book he wrote with his friend Peter Bohn called “The Tale of Two Knights.” Donning his dad’s old boots and body armor made of silver-painted cardboard pieces complete with a helmet, Mullery sat as a literal representation of the battle between good and evil.
“It was a fun thing to do,” he said, as Bohn read the story to children. “I hope it brings the story to like for the kids. I want it to help the kids visualize it.”
Similarly, Steven McCabe brought in his pet ferret, Fedmen, who was the inspiration behind his group’s book, “Little Vito,” the story of a ferret who chases a meatball across Italy and, in the process, learns the importance of sharing.
“It was really funny that he was trying to chase his meatball,” Freedom’s 8-year-old Kailey Westberry said of the story. “The ferret was really cute. He looks like a pet I would have.”
Although 10-year-old Sean Delgordo heard completely different stories, he echoed Westberry’s sentiments, adding he liked how other students were getting involved in his education.
“It was fun,” he said. “I liked all the centers we went to.”
Lakewood senior Shanbria Williams, 18, couldn’t stop smiling with excitement after she shared here book, “The Other Half,” a story about a Mexican-American trying to discover his heritage, with the children.
“It brings out the shine,” Williams said of sharing her book with the children. “It was amazing. I loved being around those little kids. It brought back so many memories — how they spelled things, everything. (The project) was hard to do, but in the end it was worth it.”
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].