850 Readers Lend Voices to Guinness Contest; Junior High Students Join Statewide Effort to Set Record for Simultaneous Reading

Article excerpt

Byline: BETH REESE CRAVEY

Waiting for the 10-second countdown to start, Green Cove Springs Junior High seventh- and eighth-graders pondered the importance of what they were about to undertake.

Assembled on the school football field, some of the 850 or so students said they were proud to be part of a statewide junior high-middle school effort Thursday to break a Guinness world record for the most people reading aloud simultaneously in multiple locations.

"Reading's sweet," said Patrick Russell.

Not only did students get to miss a bit of class, but they got to do something together - and participate in something bigger than themselves.

"It's crazy, it's awesome," said Corey Mauller. "It would be a totally amazing feeling to share that with your best friends."

Jayme Pedone agreed.

"Our school will be much stronger, coming together on the football field," he said.

If the effort is successful, the school could be part of Guinness lore forever.

"Breaking a world record will be a miraculous accomplishment," said Kelsey Shook.

Finally, word came that Gov. Jeb Bush, who was to kick off the mass read from 117 miles away in Orlando, was ready to begin. Across the state, students prepared to read an excerpt of the book, Peter and the Starcatchers.

In Green Cove Springs, city Police Chief Robert Musco lead the junior high students:

" 'Molly's heart leaped as a gray shape flowed from the water, forming a graceful arc before disappearing again beneath the surface. The shape was followed by another, then another," he and the students read aloud. "Porpoises. Five of them, their sleek bodies keeping pace effortlessly with the lumbering ship.

"Molly leaned over the stern rail and waved frantically, then caught herself, feeling foolish.

"They know I'm here, she thought. They see everything ...' "

The Green Cove Springs contingent kept reading, the students holding tight to the sheets of paper that contained the excerpt.

Finally, they were done and a collective cheer arose from the field.

E for effort

Whether the Guinness record was broken will take a few weeks to determine, said Elizabeth Shillings, the school's reading coach. Documentation of each school's event has to be turned in to the state Department of Education by Friday.

Regardless, she said she was pleased with the students' effort.

"It was perfect. I'm so impressed with these junior high kids, " she said. "This was something they could buy into."

Statewide, the world record attempt was overseen by the Just Read, Florida! office. According to Guinness World Records, the current record is 155,528 students from 737 schools throughout the United Kingdom, who read William Wordsworth's poem Daffodils on March 19, 2004.

The Florida attempt was expected to bring together as many as 300,000 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in 470 schools and more than 60 school districts including Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia in North Florida.

"Our students continue to rise to the challenges of academic achievement," said Education Commissioner John L. …