Thanks to the efforts of some Williamsburg restaurant employees, several Whitley East Elementary School students got the chance Friday morning to meet Captain America, Spiderman, Flash and Snow White.
They played on inflatables in the school gymnasium, and were entered in a drawing to win bicycles and several other cool prizes as a reward for meeting reading goals.
“We’re rewarding all the readers for meeting their goals. We have giveaways that are crazy,” noted Williamsburg Pizza Hut Manager Shannon Barman.
The money to pay for these rewards came primarily from bakes sales that employees at the Williamsburg Pizza Hut have held nearly every weekend this year as part of their effort to personalize a national reading program “Book It” that Pizza Hut sponsors.
Pizza Hut’s “Book It” program, which was created in 1984, currently reaches 14 million students in 38,000 elementary schools annually. This includes six elementary schools in or near Williamsburg and seven in or near Corbin.
The program motivates children to read by rewarding their reading accomplishments with praise, recognition and, of course, pizza.
It runs in schools every year from October through March, and when students meet their monthly goal, they are rewarded with a free one-topping Personal Pan Pizza, and a Passport to Reading and sticker on their first visit. On each subsequent visit, the students get another stamp or sticker for their Passport to Reading, another Personal Pan Pizza and more kudos.
Barman said her employees decided to branch off of the “Book It” program with “Heroes for Heroes Book It Style.”
“We are trying to start a program between the elementary schools for our ‘Book It’ program. What we are trying to do is encourage students after the winter break to read more,” Barman said.
Store employees decided to focus their efforts on one school this year, Whitley East, with the hopes of expanding it to other schools in the future.
In all Williamsburg Pizza Hut employees raised over $1,000 for the self-funded project.
Savannah Cobb, a Pizza Hut employee, who also is a substitute teacher at Whitley East and lives in the eastern Whitley County area, said she wanted to get involved because she knows how low income the area is and that the children often don’t get to do much.
“Those kids have been so motivated by this,” Cobb said. “Some of the older kids, who have met their goals, have helped the younger kids, who weren’t meeting their goals.”
Whitley East Principal Mike Partin said the Book It program has been a great motivator for his students this year.
“It gets them excited and motivates them to read,” Partin said.
When Barman told Partin what she wanted to do for the school, Partin said he was just “honored beyond belief. I couldn’t believe that they would take an interest the way they have. It has really been a blessing to a lot of children.”
Partin said he would like to thank Pizza Hut for what it has done for the school and for helping the students succeed.
“We may be in a rural setting. We may be high poverty but we are on par with any school in Kentucky,” he added.
Partin said the program has meant different things to different grade levels.
“One of the children, an older child, told her the princesses weren’t real and she was crying. When she got to talk to the Disney princesses her whole face just lit up,” Partin noted.
Friday morning marked the third Book It event at the school this year. The prior two events were in February and March.
During prior events, students got to eat lunch with the Disney princesses and received Dr. Seuss inspired gift bags with pencils, bookmarks, stickers and so forth.
“We put them together at the store. One night we stayed up until 2 or 3 in the morning working on it,” Barman added.
Bill Frailey, a Pizza Hut marketing official who attended Friday’s event, said he came out because he wanted to see all the good things that Barman and her team are doing.
He admits that what Barman and her team were able to put together on their own surprised him.
“My goal this year is to get them recognized as one of the best in Pizza Hut and this is just part of it,” Frailey added.