WARRENSVILLE-Ashe County Middle School’s gym echoed with gasps and laughter Friday afternoon as faculty members puckered up to kiss a pig named Caboose.
The smooching contest was an exclamation point to a successful “penny war” fundraiser, according to ACMS Principal Dustin Farmer, that saw students and faculty raise more than $2,200 to support a school wide reading program.
“The idea was, hey, go out and hit these fundraising targets – it was $1,000 initially – and I’ll kiss a pig,” Farmer said. “And they just ran with it.”
Farmer, with Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On blasting over the gym’s speakers, was one of four ACMS administrators tasked with smooching Caboose. The bristly boar dragged his feet on the way to the podium in the center of the gym but ultimately settled into his place of honor in front of the student body. ACMS Custodian Jimmy Black, Assistant Prinicpal Elaine Cox and Media Specialist Sheila Richardson also planted their lips
Richardson took smooching Caboose in stride and said she’s an old hand at pig kissing. Once, while Principal at Piney Creek Elementary in Alleghany, Richardson said she took part in a similar stunt.
“The kids get a kick out of it and it’s just a lot of fun,” Richardson said. “In that case, a couple days later I’m outside the school and here comes that same pig again. I guess he enjoyed it, too.”
Richardson said Friday’s event is a fun, memorable way for students to embrace the lessons learned from Wonder, a young adult fiction title by R.J. Palacio. The book follows the life of August “Auggie” Pullman, a 10-year-old boy with a rare facial deformity who must navigate a new school.
“At the end of the day, the book is about embracing kindness,” Richardson said. “It’s a great story, with a great message and we want to change our little corner of the world here in Ashe County and maybe this book is part of that.”
Richardson said the school had long hoped to schedule a school-wide read, but coordinating the effort has always proved difficult. Ever looming state and federal testing mean teachers must always be focused on the long term goal of preparing their students to meet those standards.
“So it takes time to really sit down and plan how the entire school would approach this,” Richardson said. “We finally settled on this idea back in the spring and we’ve really attacked it since then. The idea is for everyone in the school, teachers, students, janitors, everybody to read this together.”
She said Wonder was selected because its central message resonates with 7th and 8th grade students. Everyone has something they’re self conscious about, Richardson said, and most middle school students have faced the prospect of bullying.
“Middle school kids are so impressionable and, honestly, bullying is a big issue at this age,” Richardson said. “There are a lot of different books we could have chosen, but everybody can identify with Auggie because everybody has something that they’re self-conscious about. It’s a book that just clicks with kids at this age.”
Richardson said the fundraiser became necessary because Wonder turned out to be more popular – and more expensive – than first anticipated. She said the title was originally scheduled to move from hardback to a cheaper paperback printing this summer. Brisk hardback sales, however, mean readers might not see a paperback version for some time.
Cue the Penny War of 2016.
Richardson said classes competed to achieve the highest penny war score. Pennies were worth one point, but by contributing nickels, dimes and quarters to the penny jars of other classes, students could reduce the point total of competitors. Some $2,240 was raised during the drive, which will be used to offset the costs to purchase copies of Wonder and t-shirts for the entire school.
Throughout the rest of the semester, teachers will build activities around Wonder.
“Just a lot of effort has gone into this, for everybody,” Richardson said. “But I think it’s an idea that can change everybody, something everybody can take something from.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.