Franks for the memories: Twenty-nine students from Russell Elementary will get a very special visit this Friday from the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, one of six such outsized wienies-on-wheels that roll around the country solving mysteries and spreading mirth to frankfurter fans everywhere. A “Hotdogger” from the Wiener Patrol (Oscar Mayer graduates a class of about a dozen from their Madison, Wisc. “Hot Dog High” every year) will also present the Russell fourth-graders with a very special prize for their winning vocal version of the classic “I Wish I Were an Oscar Mayer Wiener” jingle: a giant novelty check for $10,000 to go toward the school’s music program. At press time, it was not known whether the kids’ version was enhanced with the sonorous tweeting of Wienerwhistles.

We wish we were an Oscar Mayer winner, too! Who wouldn’t want to get a visit from America’s most famous novelty food vehicle? The original Wienermobile, a 13-foot metal frank on a Dodge chassis, was built in Chicago in 1936 at a cost of $5,000. Since then, the rolling wiener has gotten bigger and better every time Oscar Mayer upgrades its tube-steak armada, and that’s seven times to date. A 1958 version was designed and built on a Willys Jeep chassis by the late Brooks Stevens, of “Excalibur” ultra-luxury car fame. 1988’s “Sausage Deluxe” Wienermobile boasted a V-6 engine, cellular phone and a sound system that played 21 versions of the Wiener Jingle. 1995’s “Luxo-Link” model was 11 feet tall and 27 feet long, and the tricked-out 2000 model has a GPS system and can do 90 mph! Congratulations, Russell fourth-graders, and woe betide lesser novelty food vehicles racing the Wienermobile for pink slips.

The journey of a million pages begins with just one word: Read! Last year, as educators at Missoula’s Sentinel High School began their periodic soul-searching of their students’ academic strengths and weaknesses, they discovered that their “weakest links” (no wiener reference implied) were reading and reading comprehension. Hardly a surprise there, as national trends indicate that high schoolers’ interest in extracurricular reading generally ranks below watching television and playing video games, and falls somewhere between having a cavity filled and getting a tetanus shot.

“We looked up the research and found that kids improve more when they’re reading books of their own choice,” says Kris Miller, a Sentinel teacher and co-chair of the school improvement committee. “You can do things with in-class assignments, but the real growth comes when kids are reading their own selections.”

Eschewing the stick for the carrot, Sentinel educators challenged each student to read at least 1,000 pages outside the classroom by the end of the school year, and upped the ante by offering them various and sundry incentives for each book they read of their own choosing (thanks, in part, to the generous support of about 50 Missoula-area businesses). With the gauntlet thrown down, Sentinel’s 1,200 or so Spartans answered the call—and then some, reading more than 1 million pages! (The official tally as of this week was 1,000,680 pages.) At least 95 students read more 2,000 pages, 13 read more than 3,000 pages and one student—Layla Maule—read a whopping 17,000 pages! (Just in case you were wondering, pages from magazines and local newsweeklies, despite their scintillating and insightful prose, did not qualify for the final page count.) So congrats, Sentinel students, on a job well done! (Did we mention, your book reports are due next week…)

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