Fifth-grader Aidan Taskoff was late to Cooks Corner Elementary School this morning, but he didn’t get in trouble for it.
Instead, friends waved and cheered as Aidan, Chris Fisher and Ella Siewin arrived to school in a fire truck with its sirens blaring for their entrance as winners of the fire department’s new Fired Up for Reading program.
“I felt pretty good, like I won a gold medal in the Olympics,” said Aidan.
Both Ella and Chris said they were happy to have the special experience.
“Fire trucks are cool, and reading is pretty fun, too,” Chris said.
The three students’ names were pulled from overflowing buckets that held tickets for all students who met the individualized reading goals they set up with their teachers. Ella had a goal of four chapter books, which she passed twice. Chris had a goal of five books and Aidan had a goal of eight books.
Fire Chief Chad Dutz, Mayor John Costas and Cooks Corner Principal, Elaina Miller, drove around Valparaiso on Thursday morning to pick up the students from their houses for their prize.
Parents waited outside on the driveways and took pictures of all the children before they rode away. Ella’s younger brother brought out his toy fire truck to show off while he watched his sister climb into a real one.
“It was a blast,” Dutz said. “I think the parents were even more excited than the kids – or at least, as excited as the kids.”
Throughout the past two weeks, the fire department went through this routine with all elementary levels at Cooks Corner, Dutz said. He chose the school as the pilot because it is one of Valpo’s smaller elementary schools, and the department has done readings there before. The fire department hopes to expand the program to more schools in the coming years.
“It’s been really fun,” Dutz said. “Lots of smiles.”
As principal, Miller was able to see how all the winning students of different ages reacted to the fire truck. She said the kindergarteners, despite their excitement, were especially intimidated because of how big the vehicle is.
Miller said she thinks more students will get involved with the program next year because they know what to expect now that they’ve seen the reward their friends had for the day.
Having the mayor also accompany students in the fire truck was just another way to incentivize the children and make the trip special, Costas said. For him, the Fired Up for Reading program is a great way to highlight education.
“It sends a message to the kids that reading is important,” he said.
In addition, doing this right before the end of school helps children remember to read over the summer, Costas said. With the memory of the fire truck in their minds, they will have a goal to work towards once school lets out.