Readers rewarded with teacher dunk tank

HINCKLEY – The teachers of Hinckley-Big Rock Elementary School were serious about encouraging their students to read – even if it meant getting soaked.

Almost all of the school’s 37 teachers, faculty and staff sat above a 500-gallon tank of water Tuesday, May 28 as their students eagerly threw softballs at a target, trying to dunk them into the water.

The dunking event was held to reward all 320 students for exceeding their reading goals for the school year, totaling more than 17,000 hours of reading – the equivalent of more than 700 days.

“We kind of had a lot incentives along the way,” said Sandy Madden, the school’s reading specialist. “But the dunking was the big one.”

Students from kindergarten through fifth grade kept track of their reading hours throughout the year to reach their class’s individual goals. The school’s goal was 16,000 hours, which the students surpassed significantly.

“Once they reached the goal of the teachers, we kept reading,” Madden said.

The school provides some sort of large-scale incentive to encourage the students to read more each year. Last year, the principal, Dennis Owen, kissed a piglet when they surpassed their reading goal of 9,000 hours.

This year, the students learned what their incentive would be at an assembly at the beginning of the year. Teachers came into the gym dressed in swimsuits and goggles.

The ultimate prize for the top readers in each class was the opportunity to try to dunk their retiring principal, Owen.

Third-grader Charlie Harkison was the first student to dunk Owen, which resulted in loud cheers and laughs from his classmates.

“I was very excited,” he said. “I was very confident.”

Fourth-grader Avery Zavel was the school’s top reader, having read 26,957 minutes. She read all of the Harry Potter books, which took her half the school year, she said.

Owen, who was dunked multiple times until all of the top readers from each class had a turn, said he was glad to be able to encourage the students to read, even if it was at his own expense.

“To get kids to read for a whole school year and to read 16,000 hours is quite and accomplishment,” he said.

Owen is set to retire at the end of this school year, after serving as principal since the schools merged six years ago.

“This is just a very special school,” he said. “It’s always been my dream to be a hometown principal, and I’ve accomplished that.”

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