Geneva principal rides trike to reward students for fundraising goal

George Petmezas: ‘The goal was if they raised $10,000, I would ride a tricycle’

Geneva District 304 Mill Creek Elementary School’s first grade students shower their principal, George Petmezas with confetti streamers. The principal promised to ride a tricycle through the cafeteria if they raised $10,000 during a read-a-thon – and they raised $14,500.

GENEVA – Picture a grown man, riding a kid’s Radio Flyer tricycle through a elementary school cafeteria, while the kids scream as they shower him with confetti streamers.

This was George Petmezas, principal of Mill Creek Elementary School in Geneva District 304, rewarding the 400-plus students for participating in a read-a-thon fundraiser, hosted by the PTO.

“Part of the goal for our students was to read during school and outside of school hours,” Petmezas said. “The goal was if they raised $10,000, I would ride a tricycle.”

Students did not have a certain amount of time to read – it could be five or 10 minutes or an an hour – and were sponsored by family members, he said.

They raised $14,500 over two weeks and Petmezas rode the trike during three lunch periods.

“I got peppered with confetti (streamers),” Petmezas said. “I was almost unrecognizable and the kids really enjoyed it. It’s the best part of my job, being with kids and seeing their excitement.”

The money is for updating the school’s grade level team centers.

Each team area – kindergarten and first grades share one, while second through fifth grades each have their own – is a common area outside the classrooms, Petmezas said.

The five team areas have tables and seating to facilitate students working independently or collaboratively on projects.

“The PTO surveyed our teachers on what they felt they needed and one thing that consistently came up was to upgrade the team centers,” Petmezas said. “They were asking for different things, new seating, small little couches, stools … new rugs. … Some were asking for privacy cubicles for students to use if they require quiet space to catch up on assignments or take a missed test.”

The new furniture has been ordered and will be installed after school lets out for summer to be ready for the next school year, he said.

The team centers and the current furniture have been at the school since he started 12 years ago.

“Students need more options than just being in a classroom,” Petmezas said of the team centers. “It’s more collaborative for children.”

The school board voted to accept the PTO’s donation Monday night, as board policy requires if a gift is more than $500.

“Kudos to our PTO,” Petmezas said. “They’re kind of like the unsung heroes of what we do at school – organizing this, working with our teachers – and our teachers did a great job hyping it up.”

PTO mothers Rebecca Fozo and Ann Knuth were co-chairs for different facets of the read-a-thon, which was held from March 2-14.

“It was an amazing turnout,” Knuth said. “We were so happy.”

Motivators – other than seeing their principal on a tricycle – included gift cards from Harvey’s Tales, a Geneva bookstore, water bottle stickers, indoor recess games and lunch with their teachers, Fozo said.

Some stats:

• Total minutes read was 73,020.

• The most minutes read was 1,500 by a fourth grade girl.

• Kristin Graham’s third grade read the most minutes, 9,400.

• Kelly Kramer’s fourth grade class raised the most money – $2,138 – with one girl raising $865 by herself.

“This came to fruition through a lot of feedback. We do a lot of fundraisers, sell butter braids and have restaurant nights, but the main message from teachers that we collected at the beginning of the year was we needed more parents and kid engagement with our activities – and to read more at home with our children,” Knuth said.

“That really spun us to combine parents-supported reading with fundraising,” Knuth said. “And this was a huge success.”

Fozo said it got a lot of attention and participation.

“It was a perfect collaboration between teachers, parents and students,” Fozo said. “I don’t think we’ve had such a successful fundraiser – ever.”