Armed with a pile of books, silly string and a determined spirit, E.L. Ross Elementary’s principal Lisa Earby took on Pizza Hut’s Principal Challenge Friday.
The objective was to read from bell to bell, or in Earby’s case, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 in the afternoon. Pizza Hut’s official rules are simple: choose one day; commit; go public; and share via social media. Everything else is subject to personal preference.
Earby could have spent the entire day reading in her office. Instead, the city school principal allowed the students to vote. That is how she found herself reading on the roof.
“I’m game for anything, and that’s what I always tell [the students],” Earby said as she sat bundled up against the cold. “If you name it, I will probably do it, but you have to earn it.”
Students chose from three settings: a tent in the library; a beach scene in the cafeteria; or on the roof. An overwhelming majority placed their circle stickers under the third option.
Every principal who shares a picture of his or her reading day on Pizza Hut’s Facebook page will be entered into a drawing. The winner will receive 101 copies of “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck.”
The Principal’s Challenge is part of a larger reading initiative hosted through Pizza Hut’s “Book It” program.
Teachers set monthly records for their students to meet from October through March. Students who reach the mark are awarded with a Reading Award Certificate. These certificates can then be used to pick up a free personal pan pizza.
Earby recognized the challenge as an opportunity to be a good reading role model for her students.
“I think they need to see me having fun, and know that everyone should love to read,” Earby said. “We just started this ‘Book It’ program, and I think kids are really interested in reading.”
Third, fourth and fifth graders assembled near the school playground Friday morning. School maintenance workers placed Earby on the roof with a machine lift. She then hosted the morning announcements before starting her day with a quick poem from Kenn Nesbitt’s “The Aliens Have Landed.”
Cheers from the crowd could be heard as children shouted, “We told you we would get you up there.”
School Librarian Rachel Stewart and Earby worked together for weeks to prep for the big day. They wanted student buy-in. They needed the students to feel like they were a part of the process.
Earby walked around for two weeks acting like she was not interested in going on top of the roof. At one point, she stole the voting board and replaced it with new options. These included reading: at home on her couch, in her office and on the beach.
Stewart said she did not expect students to react as strongly as they did.
“I’ve been really shocked by how excited the kids have been,” Stewart said. “Some of the kids I have never seen hold a book before, and they are reading now.”
Pizza Hut recommends students read at least 20 minutes a day to reach their reading goals. There is also an option for parents to make a pledge to either read to their children or read alongside them on a daily basis. Stewart tells students this is the equivalent of giving up one afternoon cartoon show.
The increased emphasis on reading has come from a decreased amount of time available to read at school.
Earby said she believes the interest in reading is present.
“Kids literally walk in out of their cars in the morning reading books. I think they are like adults and I think every second they get they are reading,” Earby said. “If you watch them in their classroom, as soon as they are done with their work, they are reading.”
Earby explained it is important for students to read for more than just the often voiced intellectual reasons.
“It opens up the world. It really is a window to other worlds,” Stewart said. “A lot of times these kids have problems I can’t get rid of…but if they have a good book, then it is possible to escape for a little while and see their lives can get better.”
More information on the “Book It” program can be found at www.bookitprogram.com.