SEFFNER — As a second grade teacher at Colson Elementary School, Rebecca Donnell often asks her students about things like comprehension and author’s purpose after they read stories.
She challenges them to explain the meaning of the words they just read or why they think the writer wrote that passage.
On Tuesday afternoon, she jumped at the chance to take her class to the school’s media center to meet with a visiting author who promised to expand on these topics and help make those connections between writers and readers. And it certainly didn’t hurt that the visiting author was former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach, Tony Dungy, who also won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts and recently was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
For the past six years, Dungy and his wife, Lauren, have visited Hillsborough County public schools to advance the Dungy Family Foundation Reading Program. The program encourages second graders to find enjoyment and learn lessons from reading on-level short stories. After a similar event at Mango Elementary earlier in the morning, Dungy returned to Colson Elementary for the first time since Oct. 2015 to read Justin and the Bully.
It was the first time he addressed a class without Lauren, who had to take one of the couple’s 10 children to a dental appointment.
The book carried an anti-bullying message and Dungy commanded the room of 7-year-olds, just as he did for 28 years as a football coach and now as a studio analyst for NBC’s Football Night in America and Thursday Night Football.
"He writes books that the kids are very interested in and they are on topic," said Donnell, who recently completed a lesson on bullying. "He also asked about the author’s purpose - like why would he write this? And when he comes in and asks those great questions that get kids thinking about the book, that’s what we always want.
"It’s not just that he’s a celebrity — because some of the kids are too young to remember that he was on the Bucs — but that he’s an author."
It took Dungy less than 10 minutes to read the book he and his wife co-authored aloud to a group of five second-grade classes at Colson. Then, he asked questions like a teacher would:
"Why did Justin (the bullying victim in the story) want to quit playing soccer after just one practice?"
"Do you think Taylor (the girl bully) was happier in the beginning of the story when she kept calling Justin "shorty," or at the end of the story when they were good teammates?"
Colson principal Orestes Mendez appreciated the underlying theme of the book.
"I think bullying starts early and if we can begin to troubleshoot it and strike awareness for kids, we can let them and their parents know they can do something about it," he said while Tweeting about Dungy’s visit to the school. "Within that story there was a bystander that spoke up and defended the victim and I think that’s key too. I’m getting more and more news of that kind of thing going on, so that’s an important message."
Dungy, who can be seen covering this weekend’s Philadelphia Eagles versus Seattle Seahawks game, said he and Lauren target second graders for a reason.
"A lot of studies have been done and we wanted to encourage kids at an informative age," he said, "Especially the boys to learn that reading is fun."
Spoken like an educator with titles like father, husband and coach and less like a salesman according to Donnell.
"That’s what I liked about it," Donnell said. "He didn’t just come, read a story and say ‘Okay that’s it, buy my next book.’"
Contact Eric Vician at firstname.lastname@example.org.