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This weekend, Cindy Gruden and Kate Jenkins helped local elementary students prepare for their critical FCAT tests while Roman Oben lent his support to the MathCounts competition


Cindy Gruden, wife of Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden, helps encourage local students to read before their FCATs

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is the Super Bowl for the state's school system.

The FCAT is the tool by which all of the system's students, teachers, administrators and schools are judged. On Friday, two members of the Buccaneers Women's Organization – Cindy Gruden, the wife of Head Coach Jon Gruden, and Kate Jenkins, the wife of offensive lineman Kerry Jenkins – spent their morning helping students at Witter Elementary School get ready for their Super Bowl.

Gruden and Jenkins intended to motivate Witter's third and fourth-graders by reading stories to the students who will be taking the test next week, and they succeeded.

"They're taking the FCAT on Monday and it's pretty important for them, for the school, for the state of Florida," said Jenkins. "Any way the Buccaneers organization can motivate them is great and I'm happy to be a part of that."

Mrs. Gruden read to the third-graders while Mrs. Jenkins took the fourth grade. Gruden's titles of choice were Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street by Roni Schotter and Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox, while Jenkins chose Testing Miss Malarkey by Judy Finchler.

Nothing Ever Happens is the story of one young girl's adventures on the titular street, while Wilfred concerns one young man who helps a 96-year old woman regain her memory. Miss Malarkey is the story of how students teachers, principals and parents dealt with a test similar to the FCAT.

"It's something that is real for them and something they're going through right now," said Jenkins about Testing Miss Malarkey. "It shows the kids that taking a test isn't only about what you know; nerves and a lot of other things play into it. It's also good for them to know they're not the only ones that have ever been nervous about taking a test."

After the readings, the two ladies conducted question-and-answer session about the books, themselves and, of course, their husbands.

"I just love to be around the kids," said Gruden. "They're all so excited and they're all so well-behaved. It's just a thrill for me. They love Buccaneer football and they think it's really cool that someone would come out and read a book to them."

Principal Annette Gaddy shared her students' excitement over having Gruden and Jenkins on campus.

"Having Mrs. Gruden and Mrs. Jenkins here is an awesome thing," said Gaddy. "Reading is the number-one priority in our district and if students aren't reading at level or with great proficiency it's difficult for them to be successful on the FCAT. Having Mrs. Gruden and Mrs. Jenkins here promotes reading for fun and reading for enjoyment, which helps the kids get ready for the FCAT and improve their reading skills."

While Gruden and Jenkins focused on reading skills, Buccaneer tackle Roman Oben spent his Saturday afternoon helping to heighten interest in mathematics at the local 2004 MathCounts competition.

MathCounts is designed to create a lasting, positive impression about math, science and engineering in young men and women. The local competition included more than 200 students from more than 25 schools in Hernando, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. It was sponsored by the Tampa Chapter of the Florida Engineering Society.

Oben, who earned his undergraduate degree in economics, was on hand to present the awards to the top four teams, the first place ciphering team and the top four individuals.

The top four teams were, in order, Louis Benito Middle, Coleman Middle, Wilson Middle and Burns Middle. Benito also took the top ciphering team award, but failed to register a top four individual, with those honors going to, in order, Wendy Hou, Michael Lou, John Colby and Nathan Daly.

Following the presentations of the awards, Oben sat and talked with the students and autographed Buccaneer team pictures for all of the competitors.

"These type of events may not seem as glamorous as soccer or karate or football or basketball, but they need as much support as anything else," said Oben. "I hope having these kids see a football player coming to a math competition helps generate some support for what they're doing. I hope it encourages them to continue to study math and hopefully develop a love for it."

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