East Marshall celebrates successful reading challenge

GILMAN – When East Marshall Middle School Principal Bob Schelp thought to start a Star Wars-themed reading challenge for students, even he couldn’t imagine just how successful it would turn out.

A month ago, the middle school in Gilman took on the elementary school in Laurel with a goal to read a total of 500,000 minutes over the course of four weeks.

Students in the two schools combined to read 800,000 minutes with the middle school winning the friendly challenge with 407,145 minutes.

“They blew the doors off of it,” Schelp said of reaching the original goal and then some.

The students read both during the school day and at home as part of the effort. As a result of the successful challenge, Schelp dressed as Darth Vader Friday during a special assembly and won a light saber fight with teacher Ben Douglas, dressed at Obi-Wan Kenobi.

“I’m extremely proud of the students,” Schelp said. “It’s amazing to see that much reading in that period of time. It makes it all worthwhile.”

It was also exciting for the students to witness their principal in full Darth Vader garb.

“He looks kind of funny,” said fifth grader Rachel McAnulty, 11.

She was one of the many students who had her nose in a book for the past month.

“I think it’s been fun and real competitive,” McAnulty said. “It helped me read a lot more and read much faster.”

Schelp didn’t mind getting in the warm costume for the celebratory assembly, but did draw the line somewhere.

“Some kids wanted me to do the Harlem Shake (dance),” Schelp said. “I declined.”

The challenge was designed to get kids through the doldrums of winter, which is often a tough time to keep them focused. Schelp now has to make plans for another challenge next year.

“It’s tough to figure out what we are going to do next year to top it,” Schelp said.

The top student reader at the middle school was eighth grader Joe Sells and he received a Darth Vader trophy for his effort.