Paul Banks staff members Brandi Scott (left) Elissa Newell (center) and Julie Gottfried (right) perform a skit for students on Feb. 3, 2020 at the elementary school in Homer, Alaska. The school puts on a celebratory assembly each year for the start of the annual read-a-thon. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Paul Banks staff members Brandi Scott (left) Elissa Newell (center) and Julie Gottfried (right) perform a skit for students on Feb. 3, 2020 at the elementary school in Homer, Alaska. The school puts on a celebratory assembly each year for the start of the annual read-a-thon. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Paul Banks celebrates annual reading challenge

As schools across the state seek ways to entice their young students to read, youngsters at Paul Banks Elementary School got one heck on an incentive earlier this month at a kickoff celebration assembly for their annual read-a-thon. If the students read for 150,000 minutes by the end of the read-a-thon, Principal Eric Pederson will kiss a pig.

Pederson made this solemn vow in front of students at an assembly on Feb. 3 at the school. Staff rotates between four different themes for the annual kickoff celebration marking the start of the reading challenge, and this year Pedersen addressed the students against the backdrop of the Wild West.

The premise of this year’s skit put on by teachers and staff was that the townsfolk in an old Western town were in search of a pig to be shown off at the local fair. As luck would have it, a famous pig named Guinevere was all lined up to attend the fair, but was “pig-napped” by a gang of bandits. The only way to get Guinevere the pig back, Pedersen told the students, is to reach their 150,000-minute reading goal.

If they do that, the very real pig brought to the school for the assembly will be returned at the end of the read-a-thon, and Pederson will greet it with a kiss.

After making an appearance in front of the students, Guinevere was put away in a barn before being “stolen” by a couple of pig rustlers. The staff members playing the pig-nappers escaped capture by a posse of other teachers, weaving in and out of the students gathered in the gym while being chased by a group of staff in cowboy hats and bandanas.

“You will never see your pig again unless all the students at Paul Banks can fill up the covered wagon with buckaroo bucks,” Pedersen read from a ransom note, apparently left by the pig rustlers.

“Wait, wait, there’s more!” he cried over the outpouring of shock and outrage that rose from the assembly of young students. “The only way to earn those bucks is by reading.”

The reading challenge is held every year at the school to encourage literacy among its youngest students, Pederson said after the assembly.

“Right now, especially with the first grade, they’re on the cusp of … becoming beginning readers,” he said.

Pederson said whatever the incentive set up by the kickoff celebration is, from kissing a pig to jumping into a dunk tank, it motivates the kids to reach their reading goals and serves as a push in the right direction.

“This concerted effort just gets them reading more,” he said. “It gets them asking their parents to read for them, and everybody’s just focused on reading.”

Pederson said staff at Paul Banks have long known that reading is “the backbone of everything,” that it builds confidence in young students.

The read-a-thon is also a fundraiser for the school. When students read, they earn both prizes and funding pledges. The event runs through March 5 and the money raised goes toward purchasing books for another event, Bingo for Books, that the school puts on to get more books into the kids’ hands. Funds also help toward field trips and supplies.

Guinevere the pig made a visit to the school from the Anchor River Llama and Alpaca Ranch in Anchor Point, owned by Kathy and Greg Simpson, who have a grandson attending the school.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Paul Banks Elementary School Principal Eric Pederson’s last name, which was misspelled in a previous version.

Elissa Newell introduces children at Paul Banks Elementary School to Guinevere the pig during a school assembly to celebrate the start of the annual read-a-thon Feb. 3, 2020 at the school in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Elissa Newell introduces children at Paul Banks Elementary School to Guinevere the pig during a school assembly to celebrate the start of the annual read-a-thon Feb. 3, 2020 at the school in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Mindy Hunter performs part of a staff skit for Paul Banks Elementary School students during an assembly to celebrate the start of the school’s annual read-a-thon Feb. 3, 2020 at the school in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Mindy Hunter performs part of a staff skit for Paul Banks Elementary School students during an assembly to celebrate the start of the school’s annual read-a-thon Feb. 3, 2020 at the school in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Paul Banks Elementary School staff member Jake Parrett hides behind a makeshift cactus whilst pretending to be a bandit during an assembly celebrating the start of the school’s annual read-a-thon on Feb. 3, 2020 at the school in Homer, Alaska. To his right are Jeri McLean and Maria Fourier. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Paul Banks Elementary School staff member Jake Parrett hides behind a makeshift cactus whilst pretending to be a bandit during an assembly celebrating the start of the school’s annual read-a-thon on Feb. 3, 2020 at the school in Homer, Alaska. To his right are Jeri McLean and Maria Fourier. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

A group of teachers rush into the gym at Paul Banks Elementary School pretending to be a posse chasing down bandits during an assembly celebrating the start of the annual Read-A-Thon on Feb. 3, 2020 at the school in Homer, Alaska. The theme of this year’s celebratory skit was the wild west. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

A group of teachers rush into the gym at Paul Banks Elementary School pretending to be a posse chasing down bandits during an assembly celebrating the start of the annual Read-A-Thon on Feb. 3, 2020 at the school in Homer, Alaska. The theme of this year’s celebratory skit was the wild west. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Students at Paul Banks Elementary School listen to an assembly celebrating the kickoff of the school’s annual Read-A-Thon on Feb. 3, 2020 at the school in Homer, Alaska. Each year’s celebration has a different theme, and this year the teachers and staff put on a wild west-themed skit. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Students at Paul Banks Elementary School listen to an assembly celebrating the kickoff of the school’s annual Read-A-Thon on Feb. 3, 2020 at the school in Homer, Alaska. Each year’s celebration has a different theme, and this year the teachers and staff put on a wild west-themed skit. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

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