There are quicker ways to make money than sumo wrestling in padded suits during Saturday Live, the annual carnival to benefit Billings area public schools. But few score higher for out-and-out silliness.
When Kami Bodine, a seventh-grade English teacher at Lewis and Clark Middle School, tried the sumo wrestling costumes for her first booth at Saturday Live in 2009, her primary goal wasn’t to make money.
“It’s more about kids learning to volunteer and getting excited doing something for their classroom,” Bodine said.
Bodine came to Lewis and Clark this year after teaching at West High.
Each year, the money from the sumo wrestling ring has gone toward buying novels for her classroom.
Although many school clubs and organizations participate at Saturday Live, Bodine is the only teacher who runs a booth to raise money for classroom supplies, said Julie Whitworth, event coordinator for Saturday Live. The carnival, which fills Pioneer Park on Sept. 24, is organized by the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools.
The school district has a list of approved novels for English classes at specific grades.
“Even though a book is approved, it doesn’t necessarily mean we have the book,” Bodine said.
From the approved list of books, her freshman English class at West voted for “The Contender” by Robert Lipsyte, a coming-of-age story about a 17-year-old living in Harlem.
“It’s an easy read, but it has good morals,” Bodine said.
The students bought 30 books each year to get the set of books, which stay in the classroom.
While Bodine appreciates and teaches the classics, books she read when she was in school, she also likes to give students a chance to read more contemporary works of fiction that also have educational and literary merit.
“If they’re reading on their own, they’re going to be reading more modern texts anyway,” she said.
Volunteering at Saturday Live is also a way to teach students how to do community service work. While she monitors the scene, running the booth, and running it smoothly, is up to her student volunteers.
“I let them know they shouldn’t be texting on their cellphones to their friends, or acting goofy and not paying attention,” she said.
She expects to have seven kids working each two-hour shift through the day. In the past, she has relied on 20 to 30 volunteers, but she expects to use 40 this year.
Because the sumo suits are made for adults, some youngsters can barely stand in them.
“Putting kids in and out of the sumo suits can be tough,” she said. “You’ve got to get them in the suits, and with the little kids, you’ve got to hold them up and help them run. It’s a lot of work and it’s hard.”
A heavy rain can shut down the booth entirely, making the ring’s mat too slick for the mock combat. Instead of paying to rent the suits, she splits the proceeds with Fun for All Inflatables, the Billings company that owns the equipment.
So far, she has netted about $130 a year. She has considered and rejected other ways to increase her profit.
“It’s not just about the money, it’s about the happiness,” she said. “The kids just love the sumo wrestling booth. The kids who run it, they think it’s a blast.”
In addition to making money at Saturday Live, Bodine has also applied for small grants through the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools for classroom supplies.
The first year, her grant proposal funded a quiz-bowl style buzzer to use for classroom review sessions. Her second grant was for puppets and a puppet stage for the seventh-graders at Lewis and Clark to re-enact fables and dramatic scenes.
Bodine, who grew up mainly in Wyoming, started teaching English at the Billings Career Center in 2003, then moved to the West High Academy, where she taught freshman English for three years before being transferred to Lewis and Clark.
Contact Donna Healy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1292.