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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Reading is a Fun Challenge

By Rachel Lomot (Class of 2011) 

For Stapleton Elementary School, what began as pressure to fulfill the district’s School Improvement Plan of 2009 to 2012 developed into a rush of enthusiasm throughout the school.  The Reading Challenge was enacted February 10 and will finish up on April 15.  All students have been challenged to read a set number of books at home as a school-wide competition, with the prize being only pride and joy for themselves and the benefits of enjoying a good book.

The challenge has taken off at an extreme rate, much more than predicted.  The original goal was for the entire school, a population of 375 students, to read 2,011 books in the year 2011.  However, within a few weeks this goal was completed and the number had to be doubled.  Lately, all students K-5 at Stapleton Elementary can be found carrying books in hallways, reading at bus stops, and talking with their friends about their favorite characters.  With April break approaching, the students are expected to have read a massive total of 4,022 books.

Across the nation, literacy has become a growing problem.  At Stapleton, the Literacy Team met and debated how to get children to want to read, not only for school, but also for pleasure.  Faculty, including Rosanne Kates, Lisa Berman, Patricia Slater, and many other teachers came together to brainstorm ideas.  The desire to make the entire school intrinsically motivated to read developed into the Reading Challenge.  This being said, the faculty agreed that no prizes would be announced, other than a growing total of books.

Guidelines were established.  Different grades are required to read at different book levels.  The catch is, all of this reading has to be done at home.  Faculty was convinced that parents needed to be a part of the movement.  As William McDonald, the Principal of Stapleton, said, “We wanted to bring reading back home, to involve the parents and create family discussions over books.”  Students are required to have their parent sign their list of books read each week. And with the Principal announcing the school totals over the loudspeaker every Friday, the pressure is on.

The movement started at the Golden Eagle Award ceremony, something that has been a tradition at Stapleton to award good behavior. The students were surprised with the announcement of a challenge for the entire student body.  It began with a YouTube video.

“Gotta Keep Reading” is a song done by Ocoee Middle School. It takes the popular song “I Gotta Feelin’” by the Black-Eyed Peas and reworks the words to promote reading.

From this the children dove fully into the challenge.  At the school’s Scholastic Book Fair on February 4, a family reading night took place and the faculty was amazed to see how many students arrived.  Students outside the norm attended and were overjoyed with the thought of buying books.  Teachers and students came in pajamas, they drank hot chocolate, and stories were read out loud to celebrate reading.

Turns out the students do not need extra motivation.  The success has stunned everyone involved.  Now Stapleton students want to read and continue reading.  Warren, a student in the third grade, exclaims, “The challenge made me want to read more, so I got a library card.”  Due to the results and the third year actions in Stapleton School’s Improvement Plan, the Reading Challenge will continue next year with some new regulations that will create a more formal challenge.

The results from MCAS will show if literacy achievement throughout the school has increased.  But, as Principal McDonald says, “We cannot be so MCAS MCAS.” 

“There is more to this challenge than test scores. It is a head and heart challenge,” says Rosanne Kates. “It is all about the balance, the joy of reading and learning from books.”

The challenge ends on April 15.  Preceding this is an entire week of celebration.  Time will be set aside solely for reading each day, children will get to dress up as their favorite characters, and a school picture will be taken of the study body.

Reading and understanding literature are important factors in order to develop into successful students.  However, those are not the main goals in this challenge.  Students, teachers, and parents discovered the important things during these few months.  A first-grader named Cole realized, “Reading is awesome.  It conquers the whole world.”  Books are not only schoolwork, they have become a window of opportunity for these students.  Reading promotes not only education, but also communication that can only lead to lifelong friendships and connections.