Deputy John Sims receives a hug from a student in the hallway at Stover Middle School and a high five from another.

He pats the back of a third student and asks how much he has read this week.

The student grins sheepishly and said he is working on it.

This is not the usual interaction between a school resource officer and students, but faculty and staff agree Sims’ best attribute as an officer is his approachability.

They also credit him for motivating students to read more books.

Sims and Susan Smith, a seventh-grade English and language arts teacher, created an accelerated reader challenge in September for all Stover students.

They read a book, take a multiple choice test, and if they pass, they get points.

If, at the end of the quarter, they have an 80 average for the tests and more than 50 points, they get to go out to lunch with Sims, Smith and fellow students who completed the goal.

“(Sims) is someone who is out of the realm of education, someone they perceive as cool, and the challenge encourages them to read,” she said. “He’s told them, ‘If you read, you can do anything in life.’ He’s meshed with the children so well — it’s amazing to see how they relate to him and how he relates to them.”

Sims, 48, who has worked as a Kershaw County Sheriff’s deputy for three years, initiated the challenge after Smith and other teachers complained about their students’ lack of reading.

The challenge not only encourages kids to read, “but it gives me something to talk about with them,” he said.

And, it seems to be getting kids to read more.

Matthew Kocher, one of Smith’s seventhgrade English and language arts students, read 11 books as part of an accelerated reading program last year. This year, he has read 141.

Trey Smith, another seventh-grader, read 48 last year, 147 this year.

“I don’t like to read,” Trey Smith said. “But I’m reading more because I get to earn a prize.”

Sims’ own children — three grown daughters and another daughter who is 4 — are all avid readers.

Four-year-old Claire’s “bedroom looks like a library. If you picture her bedroom, there are a couple of bookcases full of books; they’re all over the bed, all over the floor — she loves to read,” he said.

“I tell my other daughters, ‘Education is key. Without it, you don’t have a prayer in this world.’ They’ll tell you — I preach it all the time.”

In his first year as a school resource officer, Sims spends more than 50 hours a week at Stover and has to respond to situations at Blaney Elementary next door and Doby’s Mill Elementary a few miles down the road.

Most of the day he walks the halls at Stover and talks to students who get in trouble.

“They come to me with family and personal problems,” he said. “And even if they’re in trouble, they know it’s not personal. After we talk things out, we can go have a Mountain Dew and chat when we’re done.”

In addition to his time at the schools, Sims spends roughly 20 hours each weekend working as a TV salesman at Best Buy in Columbia and as a security guard at Sonic in Lugoff.

Despite his full workload, Sims smiles often and insists on a cool demeanor.

“I never yell or scream or cuss,” he said. “If a student loses control, I talk quietly in response. Kids just act like knuckleheads sometimes.”

Having Sims at Stover is a good feeling for Jean Wyckoff, whose sixth-grade son and eighth-grade daughter go there.

“I’m comfortable with my children here,” she said. “And knowing (Sims) is at the school gives me peace of mind, especially with kids this age because they can be unruly.”


Reach Riddle at (803) 771-8435.

* * *


Five tips from Reading is Fundamental at

— * Scout for things your children might like to read. Use their interests and hobbies as starting points.

— * Leave all sorts of reading materials including books, magazines, and colorful catalogs in conspicuous places around your home.

— * Set aside a regular time for reading in your family, independent of schoolwork, the 20 minutes before lights out, just after dinner, or whatever fits into your household schedule. As little as 10 minutes of free reading a day can help improve your child’s skills and habits.

— * Let your child see you reading. And, read aloud to your child, especially one who is discouraged by his or her own poor reading skills. The pleasure of listening to you read, rather than struggling alone, may restore your child’s initial enthusiasm for reading.

— * Offer special incentives to encourage reading. Allow your youngster to stay up an extra 15 minutes to finish a chapter; promise to take your child to see a movie after he or she has finished the book on which it was based; relieve your child of a regular chore to free up time for reading.Caption: Photo(1) by JEFF BLAKE/JBLAKE@THESTATE.COM – Stover Middle School resource officer Deputy John Sims talks with seventh-graders Jacob Rostad, 13, front, and Jared Stevens, 12.Memo: KERSHAW NEIGHBORS

April 19, 2007  State (published as The State)  Columbia, South Carolina
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