11aBooks can take kids on many adventures like a hobbit’s quest or going back in time by using a treehouse. Books even got a local principal to jump out of an airplane.

Latonya Leeks, the principal of Bowley Elementary School on Fort Bragg, challenged her students in March to read for 4,887 minutes as part of Read Across America. And, in case you were wondering, that’s a little more than 81 hours. Each grade level had to read a total of 4,887 minutes. The number was chosen because it is the number of miles across the United States from Hawaii to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Leeks said if the students met the reading goal, she would jump out of an airplane. She told Up & Coming Weekly that she has done parasailing before but has never jumped out of a plane.

The idea started back in January as the school was planning what to do for Read Across America. The idea at first was if students met the goal, Leeks would go indoor skydiving. But then one staff member brought up the idea of jumping out of a plane with the All Veteran Group.

Every child in the school knew what jumping out of a plane meant. Most of their parents were or are currently a part of the 82nd Airborne Division. Knowing their moms and dads jump out of a plane or helicopter is fun, but seeing their principal do it? That took it to another level.

So, from March 6 to April 10, students turned in weekly calendars logging the number of minutes they read. Most grade levels read more than the required minutes. The fifth grade level met their goal within three days. On April 3, the entire school met the goal.

One month later, Leeks was strapped to retired First Sergeant Sunnydale Hyde for a tandem jump. Hyde served in the U.S. Army as a linguist and was a Golden Knight in 2015. Hyde is part of the All Veteran Group which is a skydiving organization. The group organized for Leeks to do the jump onto the polo field, right in front of the Forces Command headquarters building.11b

Students walked from the school to the polo field, excited and jumping with anticipation. That morning, the All Veteran Group made a presentation to the students about what was going to happen with the jump.

“They did a wonderful presentation for my kids at 9:30 to show them about the parachutes and talk about the science behind it and to really show them what they do. That got the kids pumped up,” Leeks said.

While students waited around the bleachers, teachers provided bubble wands, and the school’s Parent-Teacher Association handed out popsicles. PTA Vice President, Jordyn Oshman, was one of the several parents out at the field with their kids. She said it was exciting for her son to watch his principal jump out of a plane.

“It’s really cool, because a lot of them hear about their dads doing it, but their principal? For them to come out and actually see it, it’s very different,” Oshman said.

Then the moment came where Leeks jumped out of the plane. Kids were yelling, pointing, teachers had signs that said “JUMP” on them.

“It was exhilarating. It was incredible,” Leeks said.

After she landed, several family members ran towards her and gave her hugs. She was then presented a certificate from the All Veteran Group, officiating her jump.
Leeks told Up & Coming Weekly that she believes this experience for her students will stay with them throughout their learning careers.

“I always believed that learning should be an experience. Even when I would put together lessons, I try to include my students in a way that they became the lesson so they would remember. So I’m big on providing those experiences,” Leeks said.

“This is also staff appreciation and teacher appreciation week. So I like to provide experiences for them because when they become a part of it, they won’t forget it.”

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