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Students, guests honor Sept. 11 heroism

Genie Elton, a corrections officer at the Kitsap County Jail, reads the book “Leonard the Terrible Monster” to first-grade students at East Port Orchard Elementary on Sept. 11. - Jesse Beals/Staff Photo
Genie Elton, a corrections officer at the Kitsap County Jail, reads the book “Leonard the Terrible Monster” to first-grade students at East Port Orchard Elementary on Sept. 11.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/Staff Photo

Many of the students at East Port Orchard Elementary are too young to remember the images of smoke billowing from the World Trade Center.

But Shirley Wall, who assists students with reading and math at the school, wanted to find a way to honor military, law enforcement and firefighting personnel who help protect the country.

She searched the National Education Association Web site and found a school in the Midwest that developed an activity where those officials could interact with students.

From there, Wall developed “Read with a Hero Day,” which the school has held every Sept. 11 since 2004.

“It’s just a way for us to honor the heroes in the community, and remember 9/11,” said Leiani Sherwin, who works with Wall and was the lead organizer this year. “It’s wonderful for the kids to have the heroes come read to their classroom and expose them to local firefighters and military.”

Military, law enforcement and firefighting personnel were recognized during an all-school flag ceremony Thursday morning. More than 20 volunteers participated in the event.

They then went to classrooms and read short children’s books to students.

Wall said the concept has multiple benefits. She hopes the honored guests inspire students “to be good citizens” and show the importance of reading skills in the work force.

One of the guests was Genie Elton, a lieutenant at the Kitsap County Jail, who read to Dotti White’s first-grade class. Elton, a Port Orchard resident, said she learned about the event from her chief.

“It was exciting and intriguing for me to be a part of the event,” she said. “My message was to come and share myself with children for the day. I want to be part of the community and let them see that interaction with law enforcement can be positive.”

Similar to many, she also was impacted by the events of Sept. 11.

“It’s a day of sadness for me as an American,” Elton said. “It’s also a day of strength and a day that represents an overcoming of tragic events for this country, rebuilding and community.”

Besides reading, she also solicited questions from the students. One popular topic was the use of guns in law enforcement.

“Anytime you wear the uniform ... the children want to know if you’ve ever shot your gun,” she said. “I try and go back to the positive with those questions and get away from the tragic parts that may happen with people in law enforcement.”

On the walls outside classrooms, students also posted responses about why their readers are heroes.

One student noted that an officer saved him from being kidnapped, while another said her mother was admonished for speeding.

Wall said several of the participants have volunteered to return to the school to read to students in the future.

“For me, it’s the building of the whole community of our country and to understand how valuable every life is,” she said. “We will always remember that huge loss of life, but honor that by building connections.”

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