You might find Sue Osterhoudt, principal of Riccardi Elementary School, in her office meeting with teachers and students, supervising children in the halls or cafeteria, or attending conferences with parents. On October 5, however, Osterhoudt spent most of her day riding through the halls and visiting classrooms astride a small red tricycle. Donning a bandanna and leather jacket, Osterhoudt pedaled the tricycle, fitted with streamers on the handlebars, a tiny bell, and a basket full of Smarties, into the cafeteria during lunch, into classrooms during their reading circles, and around the halls distributing candy and ringing her bell.
Why? Because nearly half the student body had successfully completed her summer reading challenge. The challenge asks students to fulfill at least ten of a number of listed tasks, including reading five fiction books, creating a diorama, reading while away on vacation, and bringing a friend to the library.
Students were introduced to the challenge at the end of the 2016-2017 school year. During an assembly that featured Riccardi faculty and Saugerties Public Library children’s librarian Stephanie McElrath, the students were told that Osterhoudt would go about her day on a tiny tricycle if more of them completed the summer reading challenges than in the previous summer.
The number to beat was 132. This summer, 149 students completed the challenge, just shy of half of the total population of 308. That number is far higher than when Osterhoudt first took the helm at Riccardi in 2012. When she became principal, she says only about a quarter of the students were completing the challenge. She made it her goal to increase that number.
The principal says she was incredibly proud of the students. She called them all up to stage during an assembly in the cafeteria to acknowledge their efforts. If they kept increasing the number of students completing the challenge, she joked, a bigger place to hold the assembly will be needed next year.
Since becoming principal, Osterhoudt has used eccentric challenges to inspire the children to complete the summer reading. She tells the students: “If you’ll read, I will do anything.”
She’s been true to her word. Last year, she spent the day at her desk on the roof of the building. In previous years, she has dressed as a chicken and as Cleopatra. She says the students really appreciate “the opportunity to see the principal be silly.”
The students were delighted by the silliness. Students from all grades ran over to her laughing as she rode between the cafeteria tables during a lunch period.
The behavior is contagious. This year, the teachers ushered in Osterhoudt’s tricycle-riding debut with a performance of “Born to be Wild.” In years past, they performed the chicken dance and dressed as gladiators.
Osterhoudt calls the event “a fun day for everyone, especially for me.” She says she will continue to offer “silly challenges,” aiming for 100 percent completion.
“I haven’t laughed this hard in years,” she confessed as she rode the school hallways.