Schools throughout Blount County were filled with waddling costumed educators Monday, as 8,300 students discovered they all will read “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” during this year’s One Book Blitz.

Paper and stuffed and blown-up penguins — as well as igloos made of milk cartons and other decorations — filled the hallways that parents and teachers decorated over the weekend.

Even principals donned costumes to dance and waddle across gyms and theaters during the kickoff celebrations at 22 schools.

This is the third year Maryville City Schools, Alcoa City Schools, Blount County Schools and Maryville Christian School have joined to have every student from kindergarten through grade five read the same title at the same time.

A steering committee from across the schools works to select a book that is not only quality literature but also that will appeal to students of all ages and offer interdisciplinary connections, explained Amy Vagnier, assistant director of Maryville City Schools.

They have a list of about 10 titles and also consider the cost to buy the book for all the students.

The big reveal

Teachers have known the title since May 2018 and had the opportunity to share ideas online, but each school and classroom is free to make the experience unique.

Coulter Grove Intermediate School students might not have thought about the principal’s black suit and white blouse when they arrived Monday, but teachers wearing paint-splattered coveralls and carrying paint rollers and brushes stood out.

Eventually the students discovered the reason, because in the book Mr. Popper is a house painter.

All the schools could share a video created by Maryville Christian School, which as in past years featured the comedy duo of Bradley Bean and Jackson Bailey singing a One Book Blitz ditty and encouragement from recent Gov. Bill and first lady Crissy Haslam.

This year’s video followed students on a search for the new title, and included information on related activities at the public library and a scavenger hunt to area businesses.

Many schools featured a reading or acted out the beginning of the book, during which a penguin arrives at Mr. Popper’s house in a box.

CGIS Principal Ramona Best ensured students paid close attention and could get any wiggles out by having the fourth-graders lean side to side, as if waddling, every time she said “penguin,” while fifth-graders silently shivered at any words that suggested cold, such as “ice” and “South Pole.”

More than two dozen adults and three students in penguin costumes started off the assembly at Middlesettlements Elementary School by dancing to a version of “Ice, Ice Baby.”

Ice Bears team members Anthony McVeigh and Eric Ylitalo joined in the dance and later told the students how reading helped them reach their goals of becoming professional hockey players.

Then they lined up with teachers along a blue “icy runway” to hand students the packets that included their books and other goodies. The Settlers packets included a ticket to an Ice Bears game.

As Best explained to Coulter Grove students that they would be reading a chapter every night, she said, “It would be a great time to read to a younger sibling or read with your parents.”

Community support

Each student receives a copy of the book to keep, thanks to the foundational sponsors, most of whom are in their third year of support, giving between $2,000 and $7,500 each. Those include Clayton, First Tennessee Foundation, DENSO, Arconic and the Blount County Education Foundation.

Maryville City Schools Foundation is in its second year as a foundational sponsor for the countywide event, but Vagnier noted it also provided a grant to Foothills Elementary School for the 2014 “One School, One Book” initiative, which evolved into the One Book Blitz.

“You never know where ideas will grow,” she said.

WellKey Clinic joined this year as a foundational sponsor.

Other sponsors include Chick-fil-A of Blount County, which provided meal cards for every student; LeConte Realty; Contract Furniture Alliance; Envision Family Eye Care; Jason Mullen; Lamar Printing; Newell Brands; and teacher Trudy Woods, who provided the T-shirt and bookmark art, as well as The Daily Times as media sponsor for the event.

A dozen other businesses are participating in a scavenger hunt linked to the event.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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