By HOWARD BALABAN email@example.com
Medina Journal-Register — When Pizza Hut left Medina years ago, the Book It! program left with it. Students in lower grades throughout elementary school still read and were read to, but the pizza incentive was gone.
Local Mark’s Pizzeria owner Brian Christiaansen and his business partner Chris Marquardt decided to keep the incentive alive, and thus, “Book Mark’s” was created.
Brian’s wife, Lisa Christiaansen, also serves as his administrative assistant. She said the program has grown into an overwhelming success.
“For Medina last year, we gave out over 1,600 medium pizzas,” Christiaansen said. “We averaged at least 250 a month.”
Christiaansen said her husband and business partner both being parents played a role in their deciding to pick up the slack after Pizza Hut left town.
“They did a lot of business with the school with the band, and the guys wanted to encourage reading at the elementary level,” Christiaansen said.
The Book Mark’s program will enter its fifth year this November. As has been the case the past four years, Nicole Goyette will serve as Christiaansen’s contact person for Medina.
“The teachers here are all very supportive of the program,” Goyette said. “Even when we’re all busy, and I remind them to get their stuff to me, they jump right on it because we all love anything that gives kids an incentive to read.”
Goyette said having an incentive for students is a huge help with the added benefit of developing a worthwhile routine.
“If they’re reading every night, that’s a good habit to get into,” she said.
With pizza as a possible prize, Goyette said many students seem motivated to read in order to achieve their goals.
“Every kid loves pizza, and if you just do your job and read every night, it winds up taking Mom and Dad off the hook for dinner once in a while,” she added, noting the sense of accomplishment a student feels by “buying” dinner on a given night.
Christiaansen agreed. She called the coupon earning a bit of a confidence boost for students.
“It’s nice to have the kids come in with their Book Marks coupon, because when they hand it to the person behind the counter, they know they’ve worked hard for their pizza,” Christiaansen said.
Still, the overall goal for all students remains the same: read.
However, there are differences among each classroom’s goals, Christiaansen pointed out.
“The teachers come up with the goals, and each class is different,” she explained. “Some teachers make the goals in terms of minutes, and some make the goals in terms of books read. We go by each class’s goal.”
Goyette said letting teachers set the goals for their respective classes is one of the “awesome” parts of the program.
“The goals we set are challenging, but they’re attainable,” she explained. “And everyone participates.”
While Oak Orchard averaged 250 pizzas a month last year, Goyette said that number could go higher. She said her goal this year was to see an increase of about 100, with an aim at more third-graders participating.
Students who reach their assigned goal get a free medium pizza for pickup only. With the same owner at Mark’s Pizzeria locations in Albion and Newfane, Christiaansen said an attempt has been made to expand the brand.
“We started in Newfane last year,” she said. “We only had three or four teachers participate, but we still wound up giving out about 150 pizzas to their classes.”
Christiaansen said the reception in Newfane was quite positive, and she said she hoped for the program’s success to lead to more participation this school year.
She stressed that the program’s main goal is reading, and specifically reading at home.
“We consider reading the most important thing,” Christiaansen explained. “Most of the goals lead to more reading at home, and that encourages more parent interaction.”
Taking time out of one’s busy day to read is a “good habit to get into,” she added, noting that students also could have an older sibling read to them if they are not quite ready to read to themselves.