Maple Elementary School's annual Christmastime canned food drive wasn't moving along as well as hoped, so Principal Karen Elgan quickly had to come up with a unique incentive for her students.

"I set a goal of 1,500 cans, but by Wednesday the students only brought 400," Elgan said. "So I asked myself, `What could I do to get these kids to bring in more?'"

The answer: spend a school day on the roof if the students met her goal.

"I said, `Let's show our Mountain Lion pride. Let's bring in those cans.'"

The plan worked. On Thursday students brought in an additional 300. The next day a whopping 1,000 more cans poured onto the campus.

"We got a total of 2,200 cans," Elgan said.

True to her word, last Wednesday Elgan was lifted atop the school's office building, with help from the school district's scissor hoist. Using a megaphone, she greeted students as they came to class. Later, during recess, she threw paper airplanes with messages down to the students.

In the afternoon she noticed some boys were kicking a soccer ball, so Elgan challenged them to see who could kick it up to her. Although the boys were reluctant -- "We're not supposed to, Mrs. Elgan," they said -- they happily accepted the challenge. A few kickers hit their target.

"I could see forever up there," Elgan said. "It was so beautiful. When I was up there it wasn't scary at all."

Angel tree
The canned food drive is held in conjunction with the school's "Angel Tree," a Christmas tree in the school's lobby that has paper ornaments representing 20 Maple Elementary boys and girls whose families need assistance during the holidays. Deserving students are determined by the Maple Elementary student council, and the identities are kept private by teachers and staff. The school then contacted the families to see if they were receptive to the goodwill gifts.

One by one, teachers take the ornaments off the tree and their classes prepare special care packages of presents and food, including a turkey.

"Everyone pitches in," she said. "It's the holiday season."

While academics are important, they aren't everything, according to Elgan. She believes they also should learn social skills and the importance of helping others.

"We try to teach our kids it's all about giving."

If next year's canned food drive gets off to a slow start, Elgan is fully prepared to do what it takes to drum up that Mountain Lion Pride again. But students will have to wait and see what the reward will be.

"I told them that next year's reward is a secret."