PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless stood at the front of the Egremont Elementary School cafeteria. He had one student hold up a muffin, and another hold up a plate of cream cheese.
"What would happen to these if you left them out all summer?" he asked the 55 students sitting before him.
"It would look green," they cried out. "Moldy." "Melty."
"Is it possible your brain could behave in a similar way if you don't do anything with it during the summer?" the superintendent asked. "What could happen?"
"It might be like goop," a girl called out.
PHOTO GALLERY | Egremont Elementary students honored for reading, math challenge
The audience burst into giggles but McCandless proved a point. Educators call it, "summer slide," the phenomenon of students losing part of the knowledge they gain during the school year after a summer period of academic inactivity.
On Thursday, the school held a breakfast for champions of a math and reading enrichment program piloted this summer.
Before the end of last school year, Egremont Principal Judith Rush, academic specialist Pam Codey and reading specialist Jenna Luce presented students with what they dubbed the "Be a Star Performer ‘One Smile' Summer Challenge."
The goal for students was to read and to do math and other literacy-building activities from June to September. Educators will track changes in students' reading levels this fall.
"I wanted to do [the challenge] so when I came back to school I wouldn't forget what I learned," said fifth-grader Kate Kerwood.
Her classmate Erin Curran said there are some distractions to deal with while studying in the summer, but she credited her mom for keeping her on track.
Berkshire Bank, the school's community partner, also incentivized the challenge. Prizes ranged from a pencil and certificate to a seat at Thursday's breakfast table. Top five readers could win the option of trading places with a teacher or the principal for half a school day.
The "One Smile" part of the summer challenge title comes from Cindy McKinley's book of the same name. The book's theme explores how even small acts of kindness can have a profound impact on the lives of others.
In keeping with the theme, students who read at least two hours a week and completed the math workbook were able to earn points worth a monetary donation from Berkshire Bank Foundation to a local charity of the student's choosing.
A combined total of $500 was donated to Berkshire Humane Society, the pediatric ward of Berkshire Medical Center and the Boys & Girls Club of Pittsfield.
The students and bank presented the checks during Thursday's breakfast. Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi read the book "The Market Square Dog" by James Herriot and Ruth Brown, while the youngsters munched on bagels, muffins, water and apple juice.
Be a Star highlights
The minimum challenge requirement included the completion of 600 minutes of reading (an hour a week) and five math activities from a workbook.
Fifty-five Egremont students logged 1,200 or more minutes of reading, completed 15 math and two additional reading workbook activities.
Through their summer work, students and Berkshire Bank Foundation donated $250 to Berkshire Humane Society, $150 to Berkshire Health Systems and $100 to the Boys & Girls Club of Pittsfield.
Five students were designated as top summer readers:
9,001 minutes: Fifth-grader Conor Mooney
7,000 minutes: Fourth-grader Phoebe Bailey
5,705 minutes: Third-grader Lucy Garrison
5,082 minutes: Fifth-grader Samantha Blau
3,945 minutes: Fifth-grader Alexandra Swanson