LAND O' LAKES — The same Charles S. Rushe Middle School students who left school on April 26 at afternoon dismissal time, returned at about 8 p.m., lugging pillows and sleeping bags. Parents looked apprehensive, tagging along into the media center. They wondered about this sleep-over for their middle school students.
Doubts soon dissolved. Teachers Kelli Rapaport and Kate McCracken greeted students, "Girls to the left, boys to the right. No man's land is in between."
Parents breathed easier.
"See you at 7:30 tomorrow morning," Rapaport told parents.
Excitement reigned with the 20 boys and nine girls. Earning a sleepover invitation required reading one million words and writing a summary to show understanding of each book. Teachers supported them all the way.
It's the fourth year for the Rushe sleepover. Language arts teachers Rapaport and McCracken sought incentives beyond usual things like certificates. Backing them, and there for the night also, was principal David Salerno.
"They're all avid readers and are celebrating their success of reading a million words," said Salerno, adding praise for the teachers' creative efforts.
Helping out were staff members Pascal Tekaia and Kim Aursland. Back for her fourth year was Jessenia Rodriquez, former media assistant and now principal's secretary.
"This year, it was amazing how many kids were reading," said Rodriquez.
"Everyone had the opportunity to do the reading, but not everyone chose to do it," said sixth-grader Kristy More.
A bulletin board displayed four dozen students who completed the reading challenge.
Rapaport, McCracken and teacher Marlena Hilton kicked things off by having each student share a favorite book. The mention of Percy Jackson, the Inheritance series and the Dragon series drew approval nods.
Hilton led a role-playing game called Mafia — also called Werewolf — just before pizzas arrived.
The group then headed to an exuberant game of human Hungry, Hungry Hippos. Then it was time for popsicles and storytelling of "Jack and the Giant" by this reporter/retired reading specialist who'd volunteered to help.
Glow in the dark "Capture the Flag" came next, followed by ice cream sundaes. "Manhunt" (hide and seek) led things into the wee morning hours before students begin to wind down. Soon, 6 a.m. arrived with wakeup music, breakfast and students packed up to go meet their parents. Many were enthused to start reading again.
"You live so many different lives when you read a book," said Bayley Wisniewski, 12.
"Reading books give you an adventure. Books are magical," added Allie LaRussa, 11.
Rappaport and McCracken already told next year's incoming students that the project is a go for a fifth year.
Gail Diederich is a retired Pasco County teacher of 32 years. She writes feature stories with an education focus for Pasco and Hernando counties. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.