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Principal hit with pies to reward students

Roanoke Avenue Elementary School Principal Thomas Payton is

Roanoke Avenue Elementary School Principal Thomas Payton is hit with a pie by third-grader Rodrigo Elias. Students at the Riverhead school were rewarded for their reading efforts with the promise of the chance to hit the principal in the face with a whipped-cream pie. (March 25, 2011) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Teaching kids to love reading is as easy as pie.

At least it was at Riverhead’s Roanoke Avenue Elementary School, where Principal Thomas Payton challenged young readers with an irresistible offer: If students read for 50,000 minutes during Reading Week, he promised to let them throw pies in his face.

And on Friday, the students -- who handily exceeded their goal, reading for a whopping 66,466 minutes, or an average of 40 minutes a night for each of the 367 kids -- got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to taste sweet victory as they pitched whipped-cream pies at their principal.

“Mr. Payton always keeps his promises,” the principal said, adding, “I’ve got whipped cream in my ears.”

Sparking enthusiasm in young readers is a concept Payton says is “easy as pie.”

Payton has concocted several unique way to tempt students with literature. One year, he shaved his head. Another time he dressed up as a chicken and did the “Chicken Dance.” And then there was the year he dressed up as a clown.

“It’s getting harder and harder to come up with ideas,” said Payton, who’s in his first year as Roanoke principal after serving as principal at Riverhead’s Phillips Avenue Elementary.

According to teachers, the promise of pie whet young appetites for reading.

“The kids are actively engaged each and every day in reading,” music teacher Lisa Talmage said.

Kindergarten teacher Lisa Barth said her students “have been looking forward to this like nothing else.”

Excitement in the auditorium grew to a fever pitch as kids fist-pumped and shouted “Pie! Pie! Pie!” while waiting for the principal to appear.

Next, names were drawn from a hat and five lucky students – one from each grade, including kindergartner Haley Grace, first-grader Emily Gonzales, second-grader Ariana Brooks, third-grader Rodrigo Elias and fourth-grader Troy Shawn Burgess – took aim.

Wiping cream from his face, Payton congratulated the kids on their reading success.

“What could be better than watching your principal get a pie in the face?” kindergarten teaching assistant Mary Trojanowski said. “That’s such motivation.”

Above, Roanoke Avenue Elementary School principal Thomas Payton is hit with a pie by third-grader Rodrigo Elias.

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