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Big Chill Reading Challenge

Anthony Edwards / Staff Photo

Barstow Memorial School students Madelyn Page, right, and Zoe Zmurko dump a bucket of ice water over Principal Karen Prescott’s head on Monday as a reward for the school having read 1,500 books as part of a reading challenge.

CHITTENDEN — She sits in a chair in the school gazebo, a pair of swimming goggles on her head. 
Snowflakes fall all around her and she shivers, whether from the cold weather or anticipation of what is to come, no one knows. 
Two students come up behind her and in one big whoosh, dump a giant bucket of ice water over her head.
That’s how Barstow Memorial School Principal Karen Prescott showed her appreciation for reading. 
Students at the school completed and surpassed the annual reading challenge, and this was their reward. 
Each winter, the entire student body, made up of just more than 200 students, spend two weeks trying to read at least 1,500 books. 
As an incentive and reward, they concoct something wild for their principal, Prescott, to do. 
“I’ve done everything from riding a horse to kissing a pig,” she said, neither of which did she find appealing. “But I do it because the kids love it, and it supports reading.”
Prescott said she gets email and phone calls from parents describing how enthusiastic their children are about the reading challenge, even when they do not normally gravitate toward reading during their free time. 
“It’s a really good thing to get our students on board with reading, especially for fun,” she said. “The whole school gets excited about this.”
A little more than 200 students gathered outside near the school gazebo in the snowy afternoon to watch their principal get doused with ice water. 
Each student held a cup of hot cocoa to help ward off the chill while the leader of the school dealt with frozen hair.
“I can’t believe they dumped cold water on her head,” said Josh Grover, a kindergartner with a hefty hot chocolate moustache.
Not only does this yearly event help give kids motivation to explore stories, but it also helps motivate Prescott to get a little out of her comfort zone. 
“I fell off a horse once and avoided them ever since,” she said. “But the kids convinced me to get back on one. I might not have otherwise.”
Even though she has now braved the chilly weather and even chillier water, she said her biggest leap of faith was when the students convinced her to dress up as a beach bum and sing and dance to a Beach Boys song.
“That was really hard for me,” she said, laughing at the memory. 
Although this icy challenge wasn’t the most difficult for her, it was the most sentimental. 
After 17 years at the school, Prescott will retire after this school year. 
“It’s a fun way to kind of end my time here,” she said. 
And the kids loved it.
They cheered for her when she got soaked, sounding like a small crowd at a pop concert. 
“This was by far the best prize we’ve ever gotten,” said Wyatt Fitzgerald, 10. “On a scale of one to 10, this was a 10.”
Librarian Heidi Webster said students came to her with a whole bunch of ideas for the prize, but this one stood out for them.
“They really loved the idea,” she said. “And they read a lot of books.”
Overall, the school read 1,510 books, she said. 
Eighth-grader Emma Tschaikowsky said the reading challenge is something she looks forward to because she loves to read. 
“It’s really good for our education,” she said, checking another book out from the library. “And the end result with our principal was just spectacular.” 
bryanna.allen@rutlandherald.com

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Barstow PTO Chittenden, Vermont,
Feb 15, 2015, 10:01 AM