PORTLAND — Principal Stephen Rogers put on a Hawaiian shirt, sat beneath a sun umbrella and cracked open a beach book.
It was an unusual workday for Rogers. For five hours on Nov. 13, he and scores of students sat in the lobby of Lyman Moore Middle School – amid beach towels and a sky-blue backdrop – and read silently as part of a daylong stunt to encourage reading and compete for 101 free books.
Rogers spent the first 30 minutes of the day reading aloud from Dr. Suess’ “Oh the Places You’ll Go” for an audience of middle-schoolers, but then settled in with John Grisham’s new novel “Sycamore Row,” which he borrowed from the school’s library.
Every 45 minutes or so, a new group of about 60 students would cycle into the main lobby to join Rogers in silent reading. Between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., about 400 students participated in the event, which was documented in a time-lapse video.
For his effort, Rogers will be entered into a drawing to win 101 copies of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck” for the school library. The nationwide contest is sponsored by Pizza Hut to draw attention to National Young Readers Week.
Throughout the day, Rogers was provided food and drink by students and staff, while he set a personal best for the amount of time spent reading during a single weekday, he said.
The stunt was coordinated by the school’s literacy committee, an eight-member volunteer faculty group.
“I’m just the pawn in this,” Rogers said. “They did all the planning and decorating and advertising. Their goal is just to promote a literacy-rich school, and they figured this is a way to do it.”
Literacy Specialist Kelly Wallent said students and teachers helped create the beach scene for the event, which they hope will be the first of many.
Throughout the day, students chose their own books. Some students listened to audio books or read on electronic tablets “to support all different levels of readers,” Wallent said.
Seventh-grader Nicole Dorler read “The Underdogs” by Mike Lupica, a story about three young football players whose enthusiasm for the sport outstrips their ability on the field. Dorler said she reads a lot in her free time and feels the school provides plenty of opportunities for free reading.
Literacy Specialist Jaime Snow said free reading is still part of student culture. Many of her students do it nightly, but it’s still important to encourage reading, and the daylong event did so in grand style, she said.
Snow and Wallent participated, too, by reading “I Am Malala,” the autobiographical story of a Pakistani girl who was shot by a member of the Taliban for her pursuit of education. As a survivor, the author now promotes literacy.
“I am Malala” is also being read by a staff book club. The club tries to read books that tie into current events and area cultures, Wallent said.
“It touches the hearts of a lot of kids within our student community here,” Wallent said of the autobiography. “We’re constanly looking for ways to find cultural understandings and to improve our own practices as teachers.”
Principal Stephen Rogers reads a book amid a beach scene in the lobby of Lyman Moore Middle School on Wednesday, Nov. 13. Rogers and his book were on display for five hours as part of a day-long event to encourage reading.