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Reward for reading? A pie-faced principal

Cherry Avenue Elementary School kindergarten student Charlize Strittmatter

Cherry Avenue Elementary School kindergarten student Charlize Strittmatter throws a pie in Principal John Stimmel's face as PTA member Lillian Schweikert cheers her on. Credit: Linda Mittiga, Sayville Schools

For the students at Cherry Avenue Elementary School in Sayville, completing their principal’s reading challenge was a piece of … pie.

After the school’s Parent Teacher Association challenged students to log 200,000 minutes of time reading with their parents as part of its Parents as Reading Partners program, Principal John Stimmel pledged to take a pie to the face if they succeeded.

In the allotted three-week period, students clocked 200,045 minutes of reading time. Stimmel succumbed to not one, but six pies to the face on March 1.

“Once you get hit with one pie, what’s a few more?” Stimmel said.

Teachers and PTA members assembled the entire school in a semicircle around Stimmel on the school’s lawn and randomly picked one student from each grade to throw the chocolate-and-vanilla whipped cream pies.

“I have to say, the kids were very excited about it,” he said. “I have a good relationship with my students, so I would like to think it’s nothing personal.”

Stimmel said PARP is a longstanding tradition in the Sayville school district, going back since before he started working at Cherry Avenue Elementary eight years ago.

Lillian Schweikert, who has helped organize PARP for the past five years, said the students didn’t find out what their prize would be until the start of the third week, when they had logged just over 113,000 minutes.

“He got the kids so motivated and excited,” she said.

In prior years, Stimmel has had to hold a python around his shoulders and dress up like the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz.”

Usually, he said, the challenge correlates with the theme of the books the PTA asks the children to read. But this year’s theme was ‘Book a Trip Across America,' " which Stimmel said would be a stretch to connect to the pie in the face.

“The parents asked me if I would mind,” he said. “If it gets the kids to read, of course I wouldn’t mind.”

But he said he may have to draw the line one day.

“There was talk of a dunk tank next year,” he said. “I think March might be a little too early in the year for a dunk tank.”

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