Winning Chairperson Shares Ideas for Putting on Best Fair Ever

Media Specialist Heather Brown of Union Elementary School had a vision for her tiny rural school in Temple, Georgia: She wanted to see her school win first place in the Scholastic Book Fairs Fall 2011 National Elementary School Contest, and she intended to do everything within her power to make it happen.

It happened.

Playing off the theme “Reading is Out of This World,” Union’s Fair featured a host of contests — a What Would You Do for Reading?® challenge, a door—decorating contest, a One for Books® competition, and a “Meet My Alien” contest. Two family nights sent Fair attendance and sales skyrocketing.

Union Elementary’s Book Fair sales soared from $5,825 in spring 2011 to a sky—high $8,297 in the fall. That spike in sales occurred despite many parents of the Title 1 school’s 450 students being unemployed. Family nights pumped fall Fair attendance to about 500 people. The school exceeded its goal of 1,000 sold books virtually right off the launch pad.

As a result of the school’s first-place finish, Union Elementary earned a visit from best-selling author R.L. Stine of the Goosebumps series, plus 2,000 in Scholastic Dollars. But Heather won’t rest on her laurels: She’s gearing up for another prize—contending Fair this spring. The good news for fellow chairpeople is that she shares her blueprint for success.

Heather’s Blueprint for a Winning Book Fair

1. Plan early
Heather started planning her October event in August. “Everything was focused on the Book Fair and what we could do to make it succeed,” she says.

Early planning also allowed Heather to float her ideas before fellow faculty members. Before long, colleagues were not only on board but also contributing ideas of their own.

2. Recruit volunteers
Heather did a blast campaign to recruit volunteers among parents and students. First, she sent every parent a form soliciting volunteers and about 50 forms came back to her. Heather called every parent who responded and built relationships with each one. She then came to know their strengths: Who is good with developing posters? Who can come up with eye—catching bulletin boards? Who doesn’t mind doing the grunt work? Then she drew upon those strengths.

“I let them know I appreciate them. You must foster those relationships,” Heather emphasizes.

3. Use every available resource
No matter how many ideas Heather had of her own, she still took full advantage of every possible resource when planning. She used her Ideas Guidebook from the Book Fairs Planning Kit; she “went through everything in the Chairperson’s Toolkit,” and she attended Field Representative Joan Richardson’s workshop, where she got even more decorating ideas. “You can take as many volunteers as you want with you to the workshops,” Heather reminds her fellow chairpeople.

4. Delegate
With volunteers on board, Heather knew she would have to delegate. She kept stacks of all the many things she planned to use — transparencies for creating artwork, games, pictures of things to assemble — in separate stacks so she could hand a stack to an available volunteer.

5. Use a Student Crew
Heather knew she needed to get students on board for support and to generate excitement school-wide, so she took applications for volunteers among second — to fifth—graders, carefully evaluating each student for availability.

Between 50 and 60 students became Crew members, and the students would take on whatever work was available. These enterprising students would meet every morning for the two weeks before the Fair, creating signs and helping in whatever ways they were able. During the Fair, Crew members collected One for Books money and straightened up displays inside the Fair.

6. Promote your Fair in every possible way
Heather promoted the Fair through the school web page, on social media, via a blog, through printed flyers, newsletters, and letters to parents. Heather also posted signs in prominent areas throughout the school. The week before the Fair, students attended a “Get Pumped about the Book Fair” lesson.

7. Make family nights memorable
Upon discovering that a PTA family night was scheduled a couple of weeks after the Fair, Heather thought, “Why not combine them for a family night during the Fair?” So, the PTA provided dinner — planetary pizza, cosmic cookies, and Saturn soda. The school held Muffins for Mom and Doughnuts for Dad events (dads actually outnumbered moms), and during school hours, the PTA also gave a sneak peek of a magic show that that would take place during Grandparents’ Night.

8. Hold contests
Heather had contests for just about everything: the class that bought the most books, the class that donated the most money toward One for Books, and a door—decorating contest. And the prizes were inspiring: covering Assistant Principal Scott Brock with space slime, having an astronaut ice cream and Tang party, and getting bean bag recliners for your classroom.

9. End with a bang
Knowing one Fair builds excitement for the next, Heather went with a big finish. On the last day of the Fair — astronaut and alien dress—up day — a science team launched alien rockets into the air during a visit from two NASA engineers.

Enter the Scholastic Book Fairs Spring 2012 National Elementary School Contest here. Your school may have a chance to win a credit of 2,000 Scholastic Dollars™ redeemable through the Scholastic Book Fairs School Resource Catalog or at a Scholastic Book Fairs warehouse location, plus a visit to your school from Henry Winkler, author of Ghost Buddy: From Zero to Hero.
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