Hillsborough Elementary School students will enjoy getting a full exercise for their minds with this year’s Read-a-Thon.

This year’s theme is “Go for Gold,” inspired by the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The kick-off event for the Read-a-Thon took place Friday, August 5, to coincide with the opening ceremony. In lieu of longtime tradition, the kick-off featured a skit written by one of the parents performed in the school gym. Kids went crazy over seeing their teachers and coaches dressed up like Star Wars characters and competing against each other to win the medals.

The Read-a-Thon is the PTA’s biggest fundraiser for activities during the school year, and they’re aiming for $25,000 raised in donations. Students collect pledges or flat donations and track their reading minutes to earn money.

PTA President Sonya Sutton said the Read-a-Thon goes to help a number of different causes in the school.

“[The Read-a-Thon] supports all the PTA activities; we have social events that include all the families, like movie nights and there's a spring festival that we have and it goes to support that,” Sutton said. “It supports our teachers – we're able to get our teachers an annual stipend every year to help pay for supplies. And also we just approved some additional funds to help with professional development and other things like that that they're interested in doing and might not be able to afford otherwise.

“And then we also fund a lot of different activities that happen in the school. We have artists who come in as artists-in-residence that work the kids, like there's a poet that comes to fourth graders and helps them with the poetry unit. We have some other artists who come and we also help subsidize field trips.”

To help encompass reader levels from kindergarteners to sixth-graders, students are able to track reading times both in and out of school.

“They can choose any book that they want,” Sutton said. “Of course, with the kindergarteners, that includes reading time they have with their parents, because our kindergarteners aren't reading yet. And then the older kids, they do chapter books and things like that.

Teachers and parents have brainstormed creative ways to incorporate this year’s theme.

“We also have an activity that we encourage the kids to do that involves reading social books, and since we have an Olympic theme, a book about an Olympian, or a book about physical activity or something like that,” Sutton said. “Or reading a book in a special place, like if they read outside or doing jumping jacks and then read a book. We're trying to encourage some of the theme into that activity as well.”

Almost all of the kids participate in the Read-a-Thon because the teachers count the minutes read in school as part of the total. They also promote Read-a-Thon with different activities.

“We had in-class room events during the week of Read-a-Thon, so they'll be able to do things like, they're going to be dressed up as their favorite book characters day, we're going to have guests come in and read to them, things like that. So the kids get involved at school and then they're able to take it home and get excited about it and encourage their friends and family to donate,” Sutton said.

The Read-a-Thon goes on until the end of the quarter, around September 16 and will be all wrapped up by October as kids are awarded prizes for participating.

“We have always had a lot of successes in Read-a-Thon,” Sutton said. “So last year, we raised 28,000 and so our goal this year is 25 [thousand]. A few years ago, we raised enough money with the Read-a-Thon and some other fundraising to build a playground that cost about $55,000 - that was a big onetime project. Typically, just for the operating budget and the stuff that we do, 25-28 is what we're hoping for. Anything that we raise above our operating budget, we're going to use for outdoor improvement. So things like, where kids wait for the bus, and other projects that wouldn't necessarily be funded through the school but might make the environment a little nicer for our teachers and our students.”

The skit is always the highlight for the start of the major fundraiser. This year saw Stars Wars and the Olympics merged together for what was an epic showdown. The skit featured C3PO as the announcer between the rivaling dark side and rebel alliance fighting for the gold. After the torch was lit with a lightsaber, the students watched as teachers and dressed as Darth Vader and Leia battle it out.