Stuck on reading

Elementary principal holds up his end of literacy challenge
Amethyst Roland,10, a fourth grade student at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, straps a piece of duct tape on thschool principal Thomas Matteson during school on Friday. Students used duct tape to tape Matteson and reading specialist Jennifer Hill to the wall as a reward for doubling their Dr. Seuss reading challenge in March. Rich Cooley/Daily
Marcellus Ehlinger, 10, a fifth grade student at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, holds a strip of duct tape as he and a fellow classmate prepare to strap a piece onto their principal Friday afternoon. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — Students at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School in Front Royal outdid themselves in this year’s March reading challenge, and after doubling their literacy goal, they had earned an unforgettable Friday afternoon celebration.

Parading through the halls, class by class, toward a sign that read “Ressie Jeffries is stuck on reading,” they found Principal Thomas Matteson and Reading Specialist Jennifer Hill preparing to allow their students to duct tape them to the wall.

The idea came from Literacy Coach Nikki Taubenberger, whose brother led his students in Pennsylvania to read their way to a similar goal.

Last year, Ressie Jeffries students celebrated their reading success with outdoor lunch and extra recess, said first grade teacher Devin Britton.

Two years ago, students dined on the roof of the school, recalled fourth grade teacher Judy Holmes.

Anticipating this year’s challenge, Britton’s class was very excited.

“They’ve been looking forward to it all week,” she said.

Taping began at nearly 1:30 p.m., as Matteson and Hill stood on separate plastic milk crates and allowed their colleagues to begin the process before students would arrive from their classrooms.

Close to 635 students were expected to participate, and waiting for them was a table loaded with variously colored duct tape.

Coaching the process was music teacher Kim Oakland, who warned Hill of not locking her knees during the following hour.

“If she doesn’t bend her knees, she’ll pass out,” Oakland said.

It’s the same advice she gives her students, cautioning them about the importance of proper blood flow while they stand on chorus risers.

For added safety, a gym mat lay on the floor in front of Hill and Matteson.

Little more than 15 minutes in, everything below Matteson’s neck had disappeared beneath restrictive strips of pink, purple, silver, black, white, red and camo.

“This is still just fourth grade?” he marveled. “Oh, my goodness.”

Twenty minutes in, the hall had begun heating up and the decibel level rising. School staff carried in a giant standing fan to help Matteson and Hill keep their cool.

“Oh, that’s better,” Matteson told the crowd, still all smiles and joking about his likeness to a mummy. “It’s getting a little warm.” But he noted he could still bend his knees.

In the end, he said, all went down as it should have.

“We stuck to the wall,” Matteson said. “They took the crates out from underneath us, and we stayed up for probably a good 30 seconds or so before we started coming off the walls.”

“It was more of a sliding down the wall kind of thing,” he said. “The duct tape was holding our clothing pretty nicely, but we ourselves, gravity was causing us to come down.”

In spite of the opportunity to tape their teachers to a wall, fourth grade students in Andrea Lewis’ class were in it more for the challenge of seeing how much they could read.

“It got them excited about reading,” Lewis said. “They probably read more during that month than they did for the first half of the year.”

Some students admitted they read only a book or two in March, but others, like 6-year-old Cole Hensley, read 20. His favorite from the month was “Let’s Jump In,” by Susan Hood and Mike Gordon, a book about a boy getting ready to jump into a pool.

For each book, students filled out a paper hat with their name and teacher’s signature. Each is taped to a school wall, all of them stretching in a line throughout the building twice — double the school’s reading goal, Matteson said.

“Once around was great,” he said, “but twice around was phenomenal.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or

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