As principal of the George L. Hess School in Mays Landing, Melanie Lamanteer will do whatever it takes to motivate students to read.

Well, almost anything.

"I will not kiss a pig. That's where I draw the line," she joked.

But she is not opposed to being smushed in the face with a pie tin full of whipped cream when necessary. In fact, she did it twice recently during two separate school assemblies to celebrate students meeting the challenge of buying more than 4,355 books during last month's Scholastic Book Fair.

Jogging into the auditorium with music from the "Rocky" movie blaring over the speakers, Lamanteer high-fived the outreached hands of the second-through fifth-grade students up and down the aisles. The entrance whipped the already excited student body into a frenzy, with everybody clapping and jumping up and down.

"Some said that it couldn't be done, but you did it. Finally, this is the day you've been waiting for, and I'm ready to take one for team," the 44-year-old educator said above the roar of the cheering students.

The school exceeded its goal and sold 4,380 books during the week-long book sale, media specialist Kristen Mulraney said. Children received a coupon for each book purchased, and the coupon was entered into a raffle. The student whose coupon was drawn meant that student's teacher got to step up and actually throw the pie in the principal's face.

Because the student population is so large, two assemblies were held with winning coupons picked for the morning and afternoon sessions. The good sport that she is, Lamanteer agreed to getting "cream faced" twice.

In the first assembly, third-grade teacher Jenn Polo, courtesy of third grader Vanessa Lee's winning coupon, got to throw the pie of towering whipped cream into Lamanteer's face. And in the second assembly, another third grader, James Nilsen, earned teacher Janeen Bonomo the right to do the deed.

But not before some dramatic buildup.

Before the teachers could take aim with the creamy creations, they and their students had to answer a series of questions based on recently read classroom books. With each correct answer, they got to advance one step closer to the waiting target, who by then was covered in protective plastic.

After the last correct answer was given, the pie was readied, the windup performed, and bam - right in the kisser as students erupted in wild cheers.

"Today was a day of fun," Lamanteer told the students after she wiped the whipped cream off her face. "Now, we work on reaching our next goal."

Plans are in the works for the school's participation in the Scholastic summer reading challenge. Hess School has done well for the past two years, earning the school valuable points to use toward the purchase of more books in the library.

Lamanteer, who has been with the Hamilton Township School District for about 13 years and is serving her first year as principal at Hess, said she hopes her pie-antics continues to motivate students to work toward a goal.

Also during the assemblies, students from the second trimester honor rolls were recognized and the winners of the school jelly bean contest were announced.

Contact Lucia C. Drake:

609-272-7295