Before they'll read books on their own time, some children require a reward other than the intrinsic one. They're offered everything from free pizzas to watching their principal kiss a pig.
But teacher Sharon Craig at Friendship Valley Elementary School wanted to find an incentive that stuck to the subject of reading. When the school opened three years ago, she and Principal Curt Schnorr agreed that since there was no tradition of reading for pizzas, they wouldn't start one.
Instead, the children at Friendship Valley read to earn books -- for other children.
Altruistic and relevant, the effort will result in the donation of 700 books to Dingess (pronounced "ding-us") Elementary School in the coal-mining region of southwestern West Virginia.
"Not only do we want to build a lifelong habit of reading, but also to share it with others," said Ms. Craig, the school's reading specialist. "Kids need to experience the social nature of literacy."
The books are "earned" through Scholastic Books Inc. in New York, which agreed to donate 500 books if the students met their goal. It is the same company from which generations of children have been purchasing books of their own through monthly brochures distributed in schools. Ms. Craig approached the company three years ago with the proposal.
Friendship Valley got an additional 200 books donated by other companies and by parents. The idea is to have most of the books go to the library and classrooms, but also to distribute books that the Dingess children can have as their own.
"That's very important, that the children have books to take home and share with the family and younger siblings," Ms. Craig said.
Last year, the school sent the books it earned to a school in Missouri that lost its materials to a flood. The year before, it gave books to Lockerman Bundy Elementary School in West Baltimore.
Ms. Craig heard about the West Virginia schools from a Friendship Valley parent who is affiliated with the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor. From talking to school officials, Ms. Craig learned that Dingess is in an area where neither the school nor the parents have much money for books. Eighty percent of the students qualify for free or reduced price lunches, compared with a Carroll County average of about 8 percent.
"Books are sort of an extra," Ms. Craig said.
Still, she said, the teachers were trying to stress not the poverty, but the cultural exchange between the schools and sharing the love of reading.
"We've asked them to send us pictures of the students in the school," she said.
"It's neat to think you can do something you like to do, but you're helping someone else who doesn't have that privilege," said Megan Arnett, a fifth-grader at Friendship Valley.
"You can read for your own pleasure and someone else's pleasure," said classmate Jenna Simpson. "Also, an excuse for your sister not to bug you."
Jenna said she particularly likes the reading-for-books program because she doesn't have to write a book report or take notes on what she reads. All she has to do is fill out a slip telling how many minutes she has spent reading and what she read.
"It means you're more free and you don't have to do any assignments. The pressure's off," Jenna said.
Megan agreed, saying she enjoys books more when she doesn't have to link them to an assignment.
"When you read for vocabulary, you're constantly looking for words instead of reading the book," Megan said.
They and classmate Steven Schreiber said they are among the students who love reading enough to do it even without an incentive, but that other students might need that motivation.
"I think they'd like to read if they can pick the book," Steven said.
Schools try a variety of tricks to encourage students to read. Principals in Carroll County have volunteered for antics such as dressing as Elvis, kissing a pig or spending the day on roller skates if students met their school goals for minutes spent on outside reading.
Winfield Elementary School reading specialist Kathleen Wallis xTC said reading in her school dropped when she removed the monthly prizes students got for reading a certain number of minutes.
Students used to get little trinkets, toys and school supplies such as rulers and decorative pencils for every month they met their reading goals. They also got coupons for Pizza Hut.
When Ms. Wallis stopped giving out everything but the Pizza Hut coupons, reading levels went down.
"Children need that tangible reward," she said. "That's our society. Kids are used to being rewarded."
So this year, she's giving out baseball cards, one a month to each student meeting the goal. It's a small price to pay, she said, for getting children to read.
The reading programs each school sponsors also get parents interested. Smaller children get points for a parent reading to them, and parents read more as an example to their children.
"One parent said, 'I hadn't read a book in years, and now I'm reading as a model for my child,' " Ms. Wallis said.
Dr. Schnorr, principal at Friendship Valley, said that even pizzas and other material rewards, if they get children to read, are not necessarily bad. When he was principal at Robert Moton Elementary, the school participated in the Pizza Hut program called Book-It.
"In all the years I've done it, it does energize kids," he said. "If that's what it takes for some kids to read 10 or 20 minutes a night, then great."