Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

School Books Mayor; Peyton Reads to Spring Park Kids

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

School Books Mayor; Peyton Reads to Spring Park Kids

Article excerpt

Byline: Sandy Strickland, Times-Union staff writer

Mayor John Peyton sat in a rocking chair reading country star Vince Gill's retelling of The Emperor's New Clothes.

On a wall was a handmade banner -- complete with Peyton's picture -- welcoming him to Spring Park Elementary School. Facing Peyton were 15 special education students eager to hear about an "emperor" with a penchant for fancy duds.

The buzz began while Peyton was still in the Southside school's parking lot, when a student and parent announced they had just been talking about him and his free book club.

"Are you a member?" asked Peyton, who has launched an early literacy initiative.

More than 7,000 of Jacksonville's 4-year-olds have enrolled in the club and received a backpack filled with reading tools and the first book in a series that will be mailed each month for a year.

Peyton usually reads to students once a week. On Tuesday at Spring Park, he chose one of his favorites, a book "dedicated to country music lovers everywhere."

Peyton told the children he's made reading a priority because it's enjoyable and will affect their ability to land their dream job. He asked what they would like to be and told them whatever their choices -- which ranged from a teacher to a dinosaur -- they would need to know how to read well.

In preparation for his visit, Cathie Shimp said her kindergarten students practiced the mayor's name, telling him hello and asking how he is.

"They were so excited we could hardly get through breakfast, which they have in the classroom as part of a pilot program, " she said.

One of her students, Marty McClain, told Peyton it was his sixth birthday. It was also his second meeting with a political dignitary. After his mother wrote a letter praising the progress Marty was making at Spring Park and the No Child Left Behind program, he got to shake hands with President Bush when he visited Jacksonville last year. …

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