The buzz around Hillsboro Thursday was that Hillsboro Elementary School principal Joe Arbogast was going to kiss a cow in front of the whole student body. No, he didn’t lose his mind – he was making good on a promise.
As an incentive for the Red Devil Reading Challenge, Arbogast promised his students he would kiss a cow if they read more than 50,000 pages this school year.
“They were given the challenge around Thanksgiving break,” Arbogast said. “Preschool through fifth grade participated. They turned in weekly reading logs and kept track. There’s a picture out in the hallway that they started at one end of the hall. It was a picture of me on a popsicle stick. They moved my picture down the hallway until it got to the cow, showing them reading 50,000 pages.
“By Christmas break, they did it,” he continued. “A month-and-a-half. They’d already surpassed their goals by the New Year.”
When the students returned for the second half of the school year, they had collectively read 51,158 pages. Knowing that he wouldn’t be able to kiss the cow until spring, Arbogast decided to up the ante and get the students to read even more pages.
“I wanted to do something else,” he said. “The challenge was that Pre-K to second grade students, they had to read 250 pages or more. They would get entered into a drawing where five of them from each class would get a chance to hit their teacher in the face with a pie. We called it ‘Pie in the Eye.’ Grades three through five had to read 500 pages or more to get the same opportunity.”
On top of that challenge, the top five readers in the entire school got a chance to choose a staff member whom they would throw a pie at, as well.
“For that challenge, the students ended up reading 46,158 pages with a grand total since Thanksgiving break of 96,316 pages,” Arbogast said.
What makes the accomplishment all the more impressive is that all the pages were read at home – outside of the classroom.
“None of that was read in school,” Arbogast said. “This was after-hours, at home with parents and guardians. What we did with the reading challenge, since not everyone has access to books, we came up with the idea of Bag of Books. We made bags of 10 books and made them age appropriate. The kids took the bags home and when they finished those books, they brought them back and took another bag.”
The Bag of Books was a huge success. Many teachers told Arbogast they needed more bags because the students checked out all the bags of books already.
While it may seem silly to some to get students to read by kissing a cow, Arbogast said he would do anything to get his students to read.
“I’m a pretty big proponent of reading, especially in elementary school,” he said. “One of the biggest things in literacy and one of the reasons I did this, research shows that kids that are read to three to five days a week, that, academically and on a reading level, and on a comprehension scale – they’re up to six months ahead of their peers. Just by reading to them three to five nights a week.”
Students who are read to every night are up to a year ahead of students who are not read to. Arbogast said he encourages parents and guardians to read to children not only for the academic benefits, but the familial benefits, as well.
“That’s what we really want to encourage,” he said. “That time together as a family is very important and it’s more than just academics. It’s social bond with their parents. I believe that very much.”
Along with encouraging the students to read, Arbogast said his goal with the program was to get at least one book in the home of every child at Hillsboro Elementary School.
“Our goal was to put a book or books in every home of every child in this school and we did that, and it was a success,” he said. “That’s why we’re having today’s event because they did something. What we did was amazing and I’m so proud of my staff. I’m more proud of my students. They took this and ran with it. If I have to do this every year, I will because it worked and we have to promote literacy.”
Because the students reached their goal so swiftly, Arbogast has set another goal. He wants the students to reach 100,000 pages read by the end of the school year – a goal that he thinks will be easy for the students.
“I thought we were going to be at 50,000 by May, not by February,” He said. “We have less than 4,000 pages to get so I’m saying within two weeks, we’ll get that knocked out.”
The top five readers school-wide were: Ethan Armstrong, Hannah Buly, Kaylee Pritt, Mya Workman and Riyan Gladwell.
After Arbogast kissed the cow and teachers were beamed with cream pies, the students each received a book. All the books were donated by West Virginia Read Aloud.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org