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Painted Stone students pig out on reading tests

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Their doubling of goals meant 2 staff members at school had to kiss pigs.

By Beth Herrinton-Hodge

Teachers and educators go to great lengths to encourage children to read, but the December reading challenge at Painted Stone Elementary came with a unique twist:

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If students read 100 books and passed 100 Accelerated Reader tests, one of their school leaders would kiss a pig. Literally.

The challenge was the brainchild of Gigi Wheeler, PTO member and Accelerated Reader coordinator for the school.

“We had a late start with our AR program this year, and we wanted to give the kids an incentive that would get their attention,” Wheeler said. “We needed to do something big. The idea of kissing a pig popped into my head at a meeting one night. Other PTO members thought it was a great idea.

“I brought in piggy banks and placed pictures of teachers and staff next to each bank. The children could put money into the banks to vote for a staff member to kiss a pig. Whoever received the most votes would get to make the kiss.”

The students responded so well to the challenge that they read 200 books and passed 200 AR tests.

This earned them the right to see two staff members kiss pigs, and they selected Painted Stone Vice-Principal Damon Stefanic and art teacher Maree Collins for the honors.

“Our next challenge was to find a pig for them to kiss,” Wheeler said. “We weren’t sure if we could come up with a pig. We were told that at this time of year all farm-raised pigs are either sold or processed for food. That’s when I talked my husband into dressing up our Great Pyrenees, Buddy the Elf, in a tutu and ballet leggings to stand in for a pig.”

The Wheelers also turned to Carrie and Mike Birchfield of Windy Hills Family Farm to secure one of their goats for the pig-kissing.

“Our goat was the star of the Living Nativity at Ballardsville Baptist Church earlier this month, so we knew he could be around a lot of people without giving us trouble,” Mike Birchfield said.

“The kids and I thought it would be fun to dye the goat pink for the pig kissing,” Carrie Birchfield said. “We used Kool-Aid and hair conditioner for the coloring. We’re making this event a show.”

In the end, the Wheelers were able to borrow a pig for the event from Gallrein’s petting farm. Still, the dog and the goat were ready to make their debuts. All three animals showed up at Painted Stone last Friday, to the delight of the children.

“I’m so proud of our kids,” Stefanic said. “I just wish I didn’t have to kiss a pig!”

The kids seemed to be more excited about the kiss than Stefanic, who donned a facemask and threatened to come down with “swine flu” to avoid the kiss. Maree Collins embraced the challenge by bringing in a tube of bright red lipstick. She left a mark on the pig’s snout after her kiss.

“Our goal was to get the kids excited about reading. I think it worked,” Wheeler said. “Everyone had such a great time with this challenge that I’m thinking about having a ‘Kiss a Camel’ challenge in the spring.”