BLACKFOOT — Wapello Elementary School’s new reading initiative landed softly on the playground Tuesday morning.
Clad in a suit and bowtie, principal Matt Noble emerged from a freshly grounded chopper to introduce the school’s “Reading to New Heights!” program. Some 200 Wapello students gathered on the blacktop nearby to learn how it works.
Read enough minutes this school year, Noble told kids through a megaphone as chopper blades whirred in the background, and enter to win one of up to three helicopter rides with a parent over Blackfoot or Yellowstone National Park.
Tuesday’s schoolyard landing, donated by Tadd Jenkins Auto Group, was aimed at pumping kids up to read, an area of concern at the school after the pandemic-riddled, 2020-21 school year.
“I saw my (test) scores from last year and knew we needed to do something,” said Wapello teacher Lanae Porter.
The 29-year teacher has seen the right initiative motivate kids to read. Local firefighters used to offer firetruck rides to Wapello students who met certain reading thresholds.
“But we haven’t seen them for a long time,” Porter said.
Chopper rides could do the trick, she thought as the school year approached. The only problem: chopper rides can be pricey.
“You don’t want to know how much that would cost,” Porter recalled one area helicopter company telling her in response to a price inquiry.
Then she remembered a personal connection she has to area auto dealer owner Tadd Jenkins, who officiated Porter’s wedding over a decade ago.
Porter called the company, which agreed to donate the rides and transport Noble via chopper to the school to deliver the news Tuesday.
“That was fun,” Noble told the crowd, referring to his own first-ever chopper ride.
Students summed up their thoughts with one word as Noble re-boarded.
“Noble! Noble! Noble!” they chanted before their principal disappeared into the September sky as swiftly as he had arrived.