GATES — Students at St. Helen’s School have devoted several months this year to their goal of making Mary Beth Sullivan, their principal, very unhappy.
Sullivan hates the color pink, but challenged her students this year to read as much as possible, telling them they could dress her in pink if they achieved their extracurricular reading goals. With the help of their parents, who participated in the "Family Reading" program, the students met their goals. On the morning of May 21, Sullivan paid the price for her challenge. She sat in a chair without protest as several students, gathered in the school cafeteria, robed her in various pink garments and such accoutrements as pink jewelry and a pink hair band.
One fifth-grader, Rachel Dalberth, even enjoyed the privilege of spray-painting Sullivan’s hair pink.
"It was fun!" Rachel exclaimed.
Indeed, the students were so excited at one point, as one of their peers pushed back Sullivan’s hair, that they began chanting in unison "Spike it! Spike it! Spike it!"
Rosemary Ball, whose son, Zachary, is a second-grader, coordinated the Family Reading program, which took place on evenings in October and February and mornings in November and May. At each event, the students and their parents sat at tables or on floor mats, sharing books with one another, Ball said. Between the family events, students were asked to read a selected book for at least 10 minutes each week, keeping track of their completed efforts by circling icons on a bookmark, Ball said.
"The younger kids can have their parents reading to them if they’re not capable yet," she added.
Her own son said he enjoyed reading mysteries, and his mother added that "the kids really looked forward to (the reading events), and the parents looked forward to all the socializing."
Depending on the extent of their reading efforts, some students received such prizes as passes allowing them extra time in the school gym or the privilege of skipping an assignment, Ball said.
Jane McClenathan, a fourth-grader, said she read with her father, Ken, the novel Summerland by Michael Chabon.
"It’s about a kid who hates baseball, and his dad loves it," she said.
"Her mom picked it out," her father said.
"He doesn’t read anything but wine books and magazines," Jane added, as her father loudly protested, much to the amusement of the other adults around them.
"There’s got to be pictures," Ken said with a laugh.
After establishing that he did, indeed, read other types of literature, McClenathan noted that the reading program "makes the school more personal — it’s like a family here." He added that Jane likes to read regardless of whether she’s rewarded for it.
"She’s a very good reader, and she reads all the time," he said.
The reading program was a success all around, according to Peggy Gleason, a fourth-grade teacher who served as master of ceremonies for the "pinking" of Sullivan. She complimented the principal on her stoic acceptance of her fate.
"I think she’s an awfully good sport to do this," Gleason said of Sullivan as someone started singing to her the theme to the Miss America beauty pageant. "I think she’s a tremendous good influence on the kids."
In fact, Sullivan was such a good sport, she even reminded students to put body glitter on her arms when they almost forgot.
When asked how she felt after being changed from a mild-mannered principal into a human flamingo, she looked through her newly acquired pink sunglasses and replied, "I don’t know, I’ve got to look in the mirror."