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 Pedersen will kiss a pig.
Pedersen 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 Pedersen 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, Pedersen said after the assembly.
“Right now, especially with the first grade, they’re on the cusp of … becoming beginning readers,” he said.
Pedersen 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.”
Pedersen 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.