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Cable Show Still Sailing Along on Its Voyage to Instill the Love of Reading in Children

Three students from Longfellow Elementary School will star in a TV show this week - one where they mingle with pirates, skeletons and treasure hunters.

Bradley Fields, 18, left, a senior in the broadcast management class at South
High School, tapes Episode 88 of the "Admiral Reader" show Jan. 27 at the
SASD TV studio in South High School. Photo by Sam Castro/The Sheboygan Press

During the filming, the students watched in awe from off-stage, one crossing and uncrossing her legs with nervous excitement.

When the star actor talked to the camera about flexing his reading muscles, one student flexed his own arm muscle and puffed up his chest.

The trio guest starred on "Admiral Reader," a local cable television show hosted by three local principals to encourage its audience to read.

"They have a chance to become a superstar for a day or see their friends be a superstar for a day," said co-star Matt Driscoll, principal at Madison Elementary School. "I think that's a really, really great thing."

"Admiral Reader" was born in 2001 after a meeting of Sheboygan elementary school principals who brainstormed ways to teach children the importance of reading.

"It was one of those times where we kind of just thought that instead of talking about a good idea, we would put it into action," said Wilson Elementary School principal Tom Binder, who led the development of the show and stars as the title character.

Binder seems to come alive as he steps in front of the camera as "Admiral Reader," a grand character who sticks large white feathers in his cap and talks to children in a booming voice.

Two other principals round out the cast: Tom Edson, retired principal of Longfellow Elementary School, as "Sailor Sam" and Driscoll as "Captain Hooked on Books."

The men - who refer to their co-stars by their character names even off the set - hit the TV studio at South High School up to 11 times per year to film an episode. Each week, a different trio from one of the elementary school joins the set as crewmembers of a faux ship.

The children belt out the theme song about reading and share excerpts from their favorite books.

With 89 episodes now under their belt, the principals have watched their show change over the years. A former music teacher at Wilson Elementary School once acted as a band man who would introduce instruments to the children. "We used to laugh so hard because the song would get butchered," Binder said.

The cast also took its act on the road once to film at Lambeau Field after stadium renovations. Marco Rivera, a Green Bay Packer at the time, starred as a guest reader. And mayors, community leaders and athletes also used to stop by.

Now, with time and budget constraints, "Admiral Reader" sticks to the basics. The cast relies on the ad-libbing skills, humor and acting chops of its stars to offer fresh, engaging episodes.

Driscoll, who dabbled in community theater when he was younger, throws himself into his pirate character. "Arrr!" he often yells at his fellow shipmates.

"What really helps draw me into the character is the look on the kids' faces," Driscoll said. "Before the show, I talk to them as Dr. Driscoll and nice to meet them and I'm the principal. … They don't see me in character until the show starts, which is kind of exciting for them because you can see kind of a look of surprise on their face."

Now, they want to expand their trade. They are looking at building a Web site to share book recommendations, reading tips and clips from previous shows. They also have talked about hitting a recording studio to produce their show's theme song.

When the show with the Longfellow crew wrapped up, the three students were so excited they could barely speak. The kids, who said their nerves almost took over before filming began, couldn't wait to return to school to tell their friends about the TV show.

"We know we're not going to win any Grammy or anything or set any records for viewing," Driscoll said. "It's just great to know that we're doing a good thing for kids and families."

Sheboygan Press Article - Kate McGinty

Sheboygan Area School District Press Release
February 15, 2009