Principal’s challenge met with postcard blitz


Wolf Hill Principal Renee Bonin. Wolf Hill Principal Renee Bonin. OCEANPORT – What began as an incentive to encourage Oceanport students to read over summer vacation turned into a much larger, and more rewarding, project than an Oceanport educator had anticipated.

Renee Bonin, principal of Wolf Hill School, introduced first- through fourthgrade students at the elementary school to the “Principal’s Challenge Summer of 2007” reading and writing project in June.

As part of the challenge, Bonin announced that she would write a response letter to each student who sent her a postcard over the summer telling about a book they read.

To her amazement, by summer’s end, Bonin had received and responded to 872 cards.

“This really got more kids to read,” Bonin said last week. “At the elementary level, we try to promote reading.

“In past years we have offered other incentives, and less than half of the students responded. This by far was the greatest response we have had.”

At the end of the school year in June, each student received a folder with suggested book lists, as well as six stamped postcards, Bonin said.

Principal for the day Thomas Mannino. Principal for the day Thomas Mannino. The students were to fill out their names and the title and author of the book they read on the postcard and mail it to the school. They were also asked to rate the book and summarize what they read in a sentence or two on their postcard, Bonin said.

“The response was incredible and the challenge was huge,” Bonin said. “Each day, I received at least 30 or more cards. I wrote back to everyone.

“I wrote about my summer reading, and I commended them for their reading.

“What I thought would have been maybe an hour every morning to write back to the students turned into at least two hours each morning,” she said.

As an added incentive, Bonin said, the challenge included a chance to become principal for the day. She randomly selected one of the postcards she received, and Thomas Mannino was the lucky student chosen.

Bonin was expected to pick the student last Friday.

“Kids love to get mail, and not just email,” Bonin said. “They like to get a card or letter in the mail.

“Each letter was customized with their names, and they knew that if they read a book and sent me a postcard about it, they would get something in return.”

She continued, “They also knew they could be principal for the day and maybe even get the chance to extend recess. And I will be doing their class work and homework for the day.”

One third-grade student went beyond the six postcards and read 17 books and sent 17 postcards, Bonin said.

Other students sent postcards from Italy and Niagara Falls.

Bonin said that one of her favorite parts to read on the students’ postcards was the ratings of the books.

“I left the rating open, so the kids made up their own ratings,” Bonin said. “Their ratings were great. I got some that said two thumbs up and others gave the book a 4.5 out of 5.

“There were a lot of ‘awesomes’ and ‘goods’ and there was even a 7.9,” she said.

Another aspect of the postcards that Bonin said stood out was the students’ summaries of the books.

“A lot of students made personal connections with characters from the books, and they were able to summarize everything they read in a sentence or two,” she said.

The principal’s challenge is a project that Bonin said many principals use to promote summer reading by students.

Bonin said that dressing up like a clown or singing didn’t quite appeal to her.

“I wanted to make an individual connection with the students, so I thought I could expand [the reading and writing] challenge to the whole school,” Bonin said.

Last year, Bonin rode her bike around the school for 300 minutes to match the number of books the students read over the summer.

One year, Bonin said she read a book to the student body from the roof of the school.

Next year, Bonin said she will have to come up with another challenge to keep students interested.

“We will have to come with a new idea,” she said, adding that she hopes the program will continue to be as successful as the reading and writing challenge.

“It is hard to come up with new ideas that will motivate the kids to read,” Bonin said.

The challenge was a team effort by the school staff, according to Bonin, who said, the school’s reading specialist, Kim Rajner, and the school librarian, Linda Risden, assisted in the effort.

Staff like the school secretary and clerk also contributed to the success of the challenge, Bonin said.

Bonin said Risden opened the library during the summer months to allow students to check out books for the challenge.

Rajner helped by providing reading lists for the students at each grade level and by helping Bonin with the mailing lists for the students.

Bonin said that she also heard positive feedback from the students and from their parents about the challenge.

“We have such a great parent community

here,” Bonin said. “The parents thought it was great.

“Some parents wrote notes along with the postcards that said, ‘My child is so motivated. What a good idea,’ ” she said.

Throughout the school year, Bonin said she encourages teachers to continue to promote reading.

“There are some teachers who will have the kids make a bookworm and challenge them to see how long the bookworm can be,” Bonin said. “And some teachers offer incentives such as free passes to Six Flags Great Adventure.

“You have to reward the kids who are readers,” she said. “Now we have this little community of readers.

“If you can read, then there isn’t anything you can’t do.”