INDEPENDENCE -- If you're not a student or teacher at Independence Elementary School, you might wonder about a curious phenomenon that occurs there every first week of November.
The library begins experiencing a run on books. Kids attempt to out-read each other, and would rather stay in class with their nose in a novel than go to recess.
And for one day, instructors and community leaders come dressed in grass skirts, insect costumes or other goofy get-ups to, more or less, embarrass themselves in front of the student body.
If you're part of the school, you know it's just time for the annual Read-a-thon.
This week marks the beginning of the popular reading initiative -- in its 14th year -- at IES. For the next five months, children who participate will put in as much reading-time as possible to earn "reading dollars," which are redeemable for prizes.
The year's event is themed "Reading Rocks!" It kicks off this morning with a big assembly at IES in which teachers and community members will demonstrate their acting chops in a skit parodying "Journey to the Center of the Earth."
"They're all willing to go that extra mile and embarrass themselves in front of everybody," "Read-a-thon Mom" Liane Moser said of the participants. "I think it's wonderful to see that so many people put such a high premium on kids reading."
Moser is part of Moms-4-Reading, a volunteer group of local mothers which plans and organizes the event every year.
"Our hope is that by offering prizes as a little incentive, it will spark a desire to go out and read on their own," she said. "We hope that when the kids go on to middle school and beyond, they'll be reading just because they like doing it."
Three members of Moms-4-reading, Moser, Marilyn Morton, Joy Hoffman, started the Read-a-thon in 1989, after taking over a school program designed to motivate kids to read that was in danger of disappearing.
Morton said the Read-a-thon has greatly expanded on the original program's rewards-for-reading, and includes weekly reading competitions between teachers and students and awards for IES's top readers.
IES's almost 300 students do a staggering amount of reading over the five-month period, totaling a combined 1,000,000 pages during the event one year. Today, progress is recorded by minutes spent reading.
"The first year we went by time, the kids spent a total of one year and two months reading," Morton said.
When IES lost its fifth and sixth grades -- about 70 kids -- to the intermediary school, the remaining five grades buckled down and read for the equivalent of 16 months.
Katie Riordan, the IES Title I reading teacher who's taken part in every Read-a-thon assembly, said students look forward to the event each year.
"It comes at just the best time," she said. "The newness of the year has worn off, teachers have set goals with their kids and then this hits and just picks up everybody's excitement.
"I can go into any classroom at any time and see kids busy reading."
Morton said the success of the program is best measured through anecdotes, whether it's students improving their reading levels or a child from a poor family earning enough money to buy something with his or her reading dollars.
Riordan said the Read-a-thon has become an important part of the educational curriculum at IES.
"We get more kids visiting the library, more adults reading with children," she said. "This is one of the support pieces for our readers at IES.
"We're kind of at a point now where I don't know what it would be like if we didn't have this as part of our literacy program."