Masons help with Books for Bikes

The givers and the winners of the Books for Bikes at South Whidbey Elementary School this week. Third-graders Gwen Ramsay and Owen Miller are joined by Langley Masons Jim Fulton, Bob Campbell, Tony Gill, Tony Spagnolini and Milo Milfs. - Jeff VanDerford
The givers and the winners of the Books for Bikes at South Whidbey Elementary School this week. Third-graders Gwen Ramsay and Owen Miller are joined by Langley Masons Jim Fulton, Bob Campbell, Tony Gill, Tony Spagnolini and Milo Milfs.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford

What a concept: Read a book, win a bike.

That’s the basic idea behind the Books for Bikes program at South Whidbey Elementary School and the fine folks from the Langley Masonic lodge.

“Several years ago, the Masons approached me about supporting reading by giving away bicycles,” said school librarian Val Brown. “We tie it to our accelerated reader program.”

It all comes together at the final assembly of the year.

As the children filed into the gym, eyes furtively glanced at the stage where two brand-new mountain bikes, complete with helmets, waited for their new owners.

Sitting in one corner were 23 students holding a paper satchel marked with a prize; a poster, a book, a grab bag of fun stuff or, for the lucky winners, the bikes.

No sooner had Brown begun the program, when she was comically interrupted by paraeducators Marty Buckman and Ellen Wallace. They dragged a blanket and large basket onto the floor before the hundreds of students.

In response to Brown’s query, the women explained they were going to have a picnic, having brought “food for thought.”

They then pulled out one book after another, as Brown attempted to steer the discussion back to the assembly.

But she soon was caught up in the antics, as was assistant principal Scott Mauk.

“Hey, this book is great,” Mauk said as he thumbed the pages.

The zany skit was designed to emphasize that reading is fun and to encourage those who didn’t make it to try again next year.

To qualify for the chance to win a bike, each child has a reading goal and they reach that goal by reading books and taking computerized quizzes based on those books. Each quiz has a certain number of points, so when they earn enough points to reach their goal, their names are put into the “contestant can.”

Every student who reaches the goal gets a chance to be in the game show. Students who get close to their goal get to help with the assembly.

This semester, 150 kids qualified.

Coached by Brown, selected kids can take the prize offered or answer a Jeopardy-style question on topics like poetry or Washington state.

When it was her turn, third-grader Gwen Ramsay made the right choice and won the first bike. A few turns later, classmate Owen Miller won a bike as well.

Sitting off to the side were representatives of the local Masonic lodge, whose generosity of spirit made it all possible.

“Why do it? Because it helps inspire kids to read and gives us a chance to come here and see the positive things this school is doing,” said Jim Fulton, a master of Langley Masonic Lodge No. 218.

Principal Jamie Boyd is thankful for organizations like the Masons.

“Our community is always willing to support our efforts to provide a rich and meaningful experience for the students,” she said. “We are embraced by our community. We want to share what we do, invite others to be a part and encourage everyone to spend time with our youth and ultimately our future.”

During the past several years, the Masons have donated

18 bicycles to date and 12 to the primary school, Brown noted.

“The Masons are really great guys,” she said. ”We are so fortunate to have their support. And, of course, the kids love the bicycles.”

“Our goal is to get all our kids really fired up about reading, and every student who reaches their goal gets a certificate and a wristband that says ‘reading rocks,’” Brown explained.

She also announced a special $100 gift certificate given to Clara Martin in honor of a former student who died years after leaving the school. The parents of Jesse Travis Rodgers set up a fund to honor their son by recognizing a child who reads for the pure love of reading and whose joy of reading and enthusiasm for books inspires others to read.

Brown hopes she can keep the accelerated reader concept alive.

“It will be a challenge to keep cool programs like this with cuts to library time and budget,” she said. “Nice to know that we can count on the Masons.”

— Jeff VanDerford

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