Principal Faces His Fear
Before school began the morning of Sept. 14, Puster Elementary Principal Kevin Parker floated away in the much anticipated, once weather delayed, hot air balloon ride. Students and parents gathered on the basketball court as Parker mustered up his nerve and strode across the field to get into the basket. If someone had quoted the first line of ‘Up, Up and Away’ to Parker, asking him, “Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?’ Parker probably would not have replied with an affirmative response. Parker has a fear of heights, “I don't like being at the top of a ladder. I get queasy and try to avoid it altogether.” Pre-flight he said, “I don't have a game plan to overcome it (fear) as of now.”
The balloon flight was the incentive for Lovejoy ISD elementary students to read books over the summer. Librarians at each of the three LISD elementary schools came up with the idea. Alison Smithwick, Puster Librarian set the goal of 4,500 books. Parker said, “We met our goal last summer and she wants to continue to increase it each year assuming the students continue to meet their summer goal.” All three LISD campuses met their goal. (Hart and Lovejoy Elementary will hold their balloon flights at a later time. Their original dates also experienced weather delays).
Each year, Parker and Smithwick come up with an idea they feel will get Puster students excited to read over the summer. They reveal the incentive at the end of each school year. Two years ago, Parker was duct taped to a wall. Parker said, “That was a lot of duct tape!” Last year, he sang karaoke in front of the students. He described the experience as embarrassing and said, “The song was "Sweet Caroline", so I had a lot of help. I won't be doing karaoke again!” He said he was pleasantly surprised when the students reached the goal. “There are so many other activities that take up kids' time and to give them a reason to sit down with a book is worth facing a small fear.”
Puster students found out the first week of school that they had reached their reading goal. Parker said, “They have been excited ever since. How cool is it that you get to come to school and see a hot air balloon up close being set up and see it taking off? There are a lot of learning opportunities just in that experience.”
Parker’s son Joe, a second grader at Lovejoy Elementary, went on the ride with him. Parker said, “I need something to keep my mind off of the altitude and calm my nerves. I have to put on my game face for him and act brave so that may be my best strategy for not panicking.”
While strains of ‘Up, Up and Away’ drifted through the air from the school’s outdoor speaker, Parker, from his perch in the basket, videoed the crowd growing smaller and smaller below. He described his feelings before, during and after the flight, “Before the ride, the anticipation was exciting. I was really looking forward to it actually. During the ride, I have to be honest, I was a nervous wreck. The higher we got, the more nervous I was. The landing was really smooth and there was a lot of relief after the ride. My son was just the opposite. The anticipation almost made him not want to go, but once he was up there he loved it. I have to say, when you are that far up, it is very peaceful.”