More than 300,000 state middle-schoolers get the okay to open their mouth at the same time in an effort to get into the Guinness book of world records.
Molly's heart leaped as a gray shape flowed from the water, forming a graceful arc before disappearing beneath the surface. The shape was followed by another, then another.
The words echoed throughout Seminole Middle School on Thursday as approximately 1,260 students read aloud together in an attempt to break a world record for the most people reading aloud from the same book at the same time.
The students followed along with Gov. Jeb Bush, who was being broadcast live into middle schools statewide. "I'm excited. We're going to be part of the world record and I hope we break it," said smiling sixth-grader Allison Eggert, 11.
But for local educators, the real benefit to last week's attempt to set a world record is getting students excited about reading.
It is important that kids learn - and like - to read, said Arlene Burrows, a media specialist at Seminole Middle.
"It is the basic ingredient for success in anything they do, every course they take, but also because reading provides entertainment," Burrows said.
There are many benefits to reading aloud, Burrows said. "Reading aloud teaches cadence, sentence structure, vocabulary, and it teaches the skill of listening to comprehend," she said.
The passage the students read is the beginning of Chapter 11 of Peter and the Starcatchers, a children's story by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. The book, a prequel to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, spent 47 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and is being made into a movie.
More than 300,000 Florida middle school students began reading at 11:25 a.m. in an attempt to set a new record for "most people reading aloud simultaneously in multiple locations." The current record was set by 155,528 students from the United Kingdom who read William Wordsworth's Daffodils in 2004.
Mary Null, reading coach at Clearwater Intermediate, said several children requested the book after Thursday's read aloud. "We have a waiting list, which is wonderful. That doesn't happen very often," she said. "If you can't get kids to love reading, you can't get them to read, and they'll never read to learn," Null said.
Last year, fewer than half of the state's eighth-graders scored at grade level or above in reading on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
At Southside Fundamental in St. Petersburg, 139 students from six classes took part in the effort. Media specialist Emily Spiegel let teachers choose if they wanted to participate. "I deliberated for quite a while, because reading all of the literature I knew it was going to be an enormous undertaking. But for the kids, probably one of their favorite books is the Guinness book of world records. They love it, so how could we not participate?" Spiegel said.