Reading to kids a renewing experience

March 05, 2002 12:00 am
Rebecca Joseph, left, and Melissa Clarke, cut and pasted their Cat in the Hat headgear. (Baker City Herald photograph by Kathy Orr).
Rebecca Joseph, left, and Melissa Clarke, cut and pasted their Cat in the Hat headgear. (Baker City Herald photograph by Kathy Orr).

By CHRIS COLLINS

Of the Baker City Herald

After spending the previous two days trying to track the route of an escaped inmate, Dan Johnson was ready for a break from his job Friday.

The Powder River Correctional Facility superintendent left the minimum-security prisons grounds to immerse himself in a fourth-grade classroom at South Baker Elementary School. He spent about a half-hour reading a true story titled The Dolphins and Me by Don C. Reed.

Johnson was one of a dozen community members who read to students Friday at South Baker. Many others read throughout the week at Baker schools during the Read Across America celebration of literature. The nationwide event coincides each year with the March 2 birthday of beloved childrens book author Dr. Seuss.

It is good that kids see people who are not educators in the schools participating in these kinds of programs, Johnson said.

And it helps us out, he added. It was good for my soul. Its such a significant departure from what I do every day.

Johnson said he was recruited for the event as a member of the Kiwanis Club.

The visit with the 21 students in Amy Mickas class also brought memories of his own elementary school days in Baker City. The 55-year-old Johnson attended South Baker School as a second-grader in 1955.

Johnson visited with the students before the reading session got under way and they each introduced themselves. Jenna Green, the daughter of Tami and Scott Green, was proud to inform him that her dad is Officer Green at the prison.

Johnson also got the chance to visit with his friend, Pat Braswell, South Baker principal. The two men competed on rival high school teams as teen-agers.

Braswell grew up at Richland where he attended Eagle Valley High School and Johnson attended Pine Valley High School at Halfway. His family moved there as they followed the career of his father, the late Ken Johnson. Ken retired as superintendent of the consolidated Pine-Eagle School District that today serves Richland and Halfway.

This was the first time for Johnson to participate in the event, which is in its fourth year in Baker City and fifth year nationwide. He looks forward to reading to students again next year. And the fourth-graders gave him the nod for a return appearance.

They said OK; I dont know if that had anything to do with me being a prison superintendent, he joked.

It was a wonderful experience.