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Reading their hearts out at Roosevelt

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Mandy Meagher remembers participating in the Pizza Hut Book It! program during her elementary school days at Sacred Heart School in Colby.

Heidi Wamser also has a vivid recollection of the program that features getting a coupon a month for a free personal-sized pizza for reading a certain number of minutes a day. Besides getting the coupons from her teacher at Lincoln Elementary, Wamser's mom, Kathy Harper, also was handing out coupons to her class at Wilson Elementary.

Meagher and Wamser now are grown, each with children of their own -- and kindergarten teachers in Hays elementary schools issuing pizza coupons, Meagher at Wilson Elementary and Wamser at Lincoln.

Harper -- well, she's still going strong, too. The second-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary is in her 35th year of teaching in Hays USD 489. And, you guessed it. She's still participating in the Book It! program.

"This year, I have an amazing group of kids who really like to read, and would read anyway," Harper said. "But some years really need some extra incentive to read, and knowing they're getting a pizza kind of spurs them on a little bit.

The Book It! program starts in October and runs through March. Each November, Book It! celebrates National Young Readers Week by giving away books in local communities.

Local elementary schools participated in National Young Readers Week in various ways this week. Some hosted their annual book fairs.

At Holy Family Elementary, kindergartners had a pajama day and had "celebrities" come into their classroom to read to them.

At Roosevelt, third-graders took part in the Read Your Heart Out segment of the Book It! program, reading all day Wednesday from the first to the last bell.

Oh, they had a few breaks, for recess and lunch and going to the restroom. But for most of the day, Michelle Callahan, Amy Mayo and Staci Straub kept their students busy either reading or listening to others read to them.

"They got a little tired at times," Callahan said. "But for the most part, they were into it."

"I think they really liked it," she said Thursday, the day after the reading marathon. "The kids were still talking about it today."

Callahan said the children especially liked different visitors from the community who came to their classrooms to read.

One of those was Layton Hickel, a Fort Hays State University senior and a member of the Tiger football team.

Hickel and his head coach, Chris Brown, told the students how important reading is to everyday life.

Readers from the community got to choose which book to read, and Hickel came in carrying "Game Day," a children's book about teamwork written by twin brothers Ronde and Tiki Barber, who played together all the way through college before being drafted by different NFL teams.

Hickel said he enjoys reading to children because he had a strong reading foundation while growing up in Claflin.

"I've done it a couple other times," he said of visiting children's classrooms. "So when Coach Brown asked me if I would do this, I was glad to. (Reading) is so important to all your classes."

The Book It! program, started in 1985, has expanded through the years, and part of its success, Meagher said, is being able to keep up with the times.

"It's a great program," Meagher said. "What's neat now is they have lots of cool things you can do online now for the older kids."