This is what 5-year-old William Kelly told his mother about Ronald McDonald's visit to promote reading at Manchester Elementary School: "Ronald McDonald was at school today. Can we go to McDonald's?"

"I don't think his visit had any real impact on reading," said Kate Kelly, William's mother. "I don't think (William) got anything great out of it except going to McDonald's."

But Richard Huss, Manchester's assistant principal, said the program, "Bookin' With Ronald," had "great educational merit" for children. He said the McDonald's restaurants clown talked about books, literature and how to use a dictionary.

To Kelly, who has a master's degree in library science, Ronald McDonald's visit reeked of blatant commercialism. The Westminster-area resident maintains there are betterways to promote reading.

Hers may be a lone voice of dissent, though.

"I talked to other parents and some of the teaching staff, and they all felt that it was not a commercialization of McDonald's," Huss said. "Ronald did not mention a hamburger or going to McDonald's one single time."

Carroll educators -- certainly aware of the potential for commercialism -- generally praised the programs offered by McDonald's and other companies that promote not only reading but alsoschool attendance and academic excellence.

Subway, for instance, hands out coupons for free sandwiches to Winfield Elementary pupils with good attendance records. Hardee's rewards Mechanicsville Elementary pupils with coupons for free ice cream cones when they show up forschool every day.

"We try to look at each program beforehand," said Dorothy D. Mangle, director of elementary schools. "We want to make sure there is some benefit --some incentive -- for children."

Pizza Hut's "Book It," a program that provide coupons for free personalpan pizzas for children who meet monthly reading quotas, has proved a great incentive, Mangle said.

"It took me years to use the PizzaHut program," said Larry W. Thompson, Westminster Elementary School principal. "I didn't want people to think I was promoting the company. But giving kids something tangible like pizza for a reward is a real incentive."

Stickers and certificates of achievement don't provide the same encouragement, he said, noting some of the "gimmick" incentives provide another tool to reach those students who might not otherwise respond.

Kelly, though, said the free coupons may cause distress for some families, who may not be able to afford eating out.

"I think reading is important," she said. "But I don't think Ronald McDonald should be in the school talking about it."

School officials, faced with limited financial resources, have sought greater business and community involvement in education. SuperThrift, for example,donates a portion of profits from returned receipts to North CarrollHigh School for the purchase of computers. The involvement sends a strong message about the importance of education, school officials said.

"Companies do have twofold purposes," said Joanne C. Strohmer, supervisor of reading/language arts. "They do want to support what we're doing in the classroom, but they are promoting their companies."

She noted that there is a wealth of other incentives used in classrooms to promote reading. Public officials and parents often visit toread books aloud to pupils. Reading lesson plans often allow children to choose their own reading material.

"We're no longer just saying, 'Open to page 42 of your reader,' " Strohmer said. "We're allowing them to explore their own reading preferences."

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