LANSINGBURGH, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Rensselaer Park Elementary School is over 50 miles south of the bottom tip of the Adirondack Park. Walking inside the school this week, though, you wouldn’t know it.
From a sign mimicking the one travelers pass as they enter the Adirondacks, to recreations of mountains on the hallway walls, the transformation is complete. Annually for the last six years, the elementary school has put on a special theme for its Pick a Reading Partner (PARP) Program. This year, a trip up north seemed the perfect way to get kids reading.
“A lot of our kids know Lake George, but they don’t really know anything else, so I tried to think outside the box,” said Kelly Juliano, a reading teacher and co-organizer of Rensselaer Park Elementary’s PARP program. “You can become a 46er if you climb all of the Adirondack high peaks, so that’s where the idea came from.”
Just like hikers who scale the 46 highest mountains in the Adirondack Park, the students at Rensselaer Park are striving for greatness. These kids are earning their stripes not through hiking, but reading. Students do what the program name says and pick a reading partner – be it a fellow student, friend, family member or whoever – and commit to reading a little bit each day.
Each class gets a pair of magnetic hiking boots that they move across the walls to different “mountains,” all based on how much a child has read. The goal is to get kids to read for 35 minutes per day – or less on one day, more on the next – throughout the PARP program. Each 35 minutes is another peak defeated on kids’ way to becoming a school 46er.
As far as getting the effect across, the halls are just the start. The school library has been transformed into Lake George, complete with papercraft ducks poking their heads up above the shelves. One wing of the school has taken on the mantle of Lake Champlain, and another that of Lake Placid, complete with Olympic torch sign.
The hallway decorations are created by students – with some help from teachers, making sure signs look right, and high spots on walls can be reached. Those students learned about their given part of the Adirondacks before decorating. Juliano says many of them had no idea just how much there was to explore to the north.
“Some of them obviously have gone to the Adirondacks, in different aspects and different places, but I don’t even necessarily know if they knew that’s where they were going when they went to, say, Lake George,” she said. “They’re only in 4th and 5th grade, so I think it’s been interesting for them to see that. They’re really excited, and many of them are talking about how many books they’ve read – how many mountains they’ve climbed.”
They don’t know it yet, but once they achieve their reading 64er goal, the kids will get stickers commemorating the achievement, mirroring the patches that the traditional hiking 46ers receive. That reward at the end is the last step in an annual event that’s about getting kids excited to read.
The 46er theme isn’t the first of its scale that Juliano and co-organizer Robin Delaney have done, either. Just as this year they looked north, last year, the two teachers looked south, transforming the school into a replica of the New York City subway system, with the cafeteria dazzled up like Broadway. Another year, they synced up with the Winter Olympics, turning each classroom into a different country represented at the games, and students reading for gold medals.