Fred Heid
PCPS Superintendent Fred Heid reads to children for Literacy Week. | Polk County Public Schools

Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Fred Heid donned a mask and snorkel recently, although he stayed on dry land.

The superintendent kicked off Celebrate Literacy Week on Jan. 23 by reading “Inky the Octopus” by Erin Guendelsberger, with illustrations by David Leonard. And what’s a book reading without some sort of  costume?

“Did you know that this is actually based off a true story?” Heid asked his viewing audience. “Inky was bored with aquarium life and wants to start a new adventure in the open sea.  But just how can an octopus escape from a tank into the ocean?”

Heid read the book, which is written in poetry form. Following the reading, Heid asked students a question, shared interesting facts about octopi (they have three hearts and no bones!), and then asked them to dig up additional information about the eight-legged creatures.

During the School Board meeting last week, Heid read an email from one teacher.

“Mr. Heid, My kids really love the story you read this morning,” Bartow Elementary School third-grade-teacher Michelle Williamson wrote. “We did some research and my kids wanted to share these fun facts back with you: the arm of Pacific Octopus, when stretched all the way out is as long as a minivan — And that came from Paisley … Octopus — octopi — are thought to be one of the smartest creatures on earth. That’s from Lawton.”

This year’s theme is “Take a Deep Dive Into Literacy.” PCPS Facebook page featured photos from Highland City Elementary School’s media center, which looked like an underwater coral reef, complete with inflatable kiddie pools in which students could read.

Highland City Elementary School Media Specialists dove deep into decorating the school’s library for Literacy Week | Polk County Public Schools

“Many of our schools have done a great job dressing up their campuses with aquatic décor — but holy mackerel, look at the media center at Highland City Elementary!” PCPS officials wrote. “On a scale of one to five, we give it a deep six.”

While the video is fun, it also promotes reading to young children. According to, studies show that reading aloud is a primary driver of young children’s early language development.

“Through just this one simple act, you are bonding with your child, inspiring a love of reading—and are helping her develop strong early language and literacy skills that will become the foundation for her future learning and success,” the startearly website states. “Reading to babies is important for healthy brain development and lays the foundation for language and writing skills.”

The website has 12 tips for parents:

  • Start when they’re babies and read to them often.
  • Make reading a part of your daily routine, such as at naptime and bedtime, creating times during the day that both of you can look forward to.
  • Try board and cloth books for babies, who like to touch things and put everything in their mouths.
  • Take turns with your toddler. Let your toddler turn the pages of a board book and respond to her when she points or reacts to the story.
  • Ask your child questions, such as “What do you think will happen next?” “What was your favorite part of the story? Why?”
  • Reread your child’s favorite books to help them learn repetition. By age 3, children can complete sentences in familiar stories.
  • Point out similar words and same letters. By age 4, children begin to recognize letters and begin to associate certain words with that letter.
  • Count objects on the page together to help her also strengthen her early math skills.
  • Have your preschooler tell you the story when you finish reading. By age 5, children can sit still for longer books and can create their own stories based on the pictures.
  • Read with passion! Using inflection and maintaining the same highs and lows in your voice at the same point in a story helps your child begin to remember the words.
  • Set an example. Let your child see you reading your books to help her develop her own love of reading.
  • Just keep reading. Reading to your child helps him develop a habit of listening to stories and loving books.

Early learning is also important, eith free voluntary pre-kindergarten programs available throughout Polk County. Providers can be found on the Early Learning Coalition website.

Heid said the videotaped readings might continue.

“We were so satisfied with it, we’re going to add more books and so, quite frankly, there may be an opportunity if one of you wants to read,” Heid told the School Board members. “We will provide you with material of your choice. The only thing we ask is, at the end, to come up with some interesting facts to challenge the kids with.”

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at or 863-272-9250.

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