By SHANNEN HAYES
A small group of children at the Sanibel Recreation Center gathered around a white rocking chair to hear the story of Officer Buckle and his K9 partner Gloria from a real-life officer -- Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott, who was a guest reader.
"It's a good story about safety tips and teamwork, which are important," said Scott, who believes reading is fundamental to a proper education.
The book, written by children's author Peggy Rathmann, tells the story of Officer Buckle, who knows more about safety than anyone in the town of Napville. When he tries to share his safety tips, no one will listen until the Napville Police Department buys a police dog named Gloria.
Unbeknownst to Officer Buckle, Gloria has her own way of demonstrating safety tips -- one that makes everyone in Napville sit up and take notice. Suddenly, everyone wants to hear Officer Buckle's safety speech. "And please," people would say, "bring along that police dog."
The duo teach children to wear a safety helmet, especially on a bicycle; not to swim during an electrical storm; and to always stick with a buddy. The award-winning book also discusses gun safety, saying no to smoking cigarettes and to look both ways before crossing the road.
"I have found kids and adults alike are curious and interested in guns," said Scott, who was born and raised in Fort Myers. "But dogs always beat guns," he concluded with a chuckle.
As a father of two, Scott loved reading to his daughters who are now in their 20s. He also participates in the annual Read Across America, which is a reading motivation and awareness program that calls for every child in every community to celebrate reading in the month of March, the birthday of beloved children's author Dr. Seuss.
"We received a super response from Sheriff Scott's office," said Dave DeFonzo, program coordinator at the recreation center. "It was a quick yes on the phone when we called. We appreciate the effort."
As a means of introducing some remarkable people to a younger generation, through the power of literature, the recreation center's after school program hosts guest reader day every Wednesday. The activity will bring some prominent or well-known Southwest Florida residents, business people and community leaders to the center's Pelican Room, where they read a children's book in front of the program's kindergarten and first-grade-aged participants.
Sanibel Fire Chief Danny Duncan launched the weekly series with the popular Margret and H.A. Rey tale, "Curious George and the Firefighters." Sheriff Scott will be followed by Florida Everglades mascot Swampy on Oct. 26; the participant list also includes CROW's Steve Greenstein (Nov. 2), Dr. Edward LaMotta (Nov. 9), City Clerk Pamela Smith (Nov. 16), and FGCU President Dr. Wilson G. Bradshaw (Nov. 30).
"I think this is a great program and I'm glad to participate in it," said DeFonzo.
For more information about the Sanibel Recreation Center's After School Program, call 472-0345.