Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Read-a-Thon has lasting effect on students

They traveled to distant lands. They met with fairies, goblins and ghosts. They came across kids who could fly and animals who could talk.

Their passport to these adventures? Books.

In a four-month Read-a-Thon that culminated recently, students at Maie Ellis Elementary School sprinted past their goal of reading a million pages.

The final tally was 1,132,850 pages read by 550 students in kindergarten through third grade.

The Read-a-Thon was uppermost in the minds of Denise Leonard's students, who achieved the distinction of reading the most among all first-grade classes with a total of 105,000 pages. They kept close tabs on their progress during visits to the library, Leonard said.

“They were very excited. They would check the chart to see how they were doing,” she said. “They would bring their books to share, talk about what they read and how many minutes they read.”

Sierra Gleason, 6, said she gave up playing with Barbie dolls and Sponge Bob video games to read more.

“You get smart, you learn new things and you get entertained when you read,” she said.
Though the Read-a-Thon is over, Leonard sees its impact every day. Many students continue to bring in their logs daily. They talk about books they are reading.

In the past, reading programs at Maie Ellis School spanned no more than three weeks and were conducted by school volunteers. Principal Charmian Francis brought Read-a-Thon to Maie Ellis three years ago. The program is part of California Reads, a statewide initiative to promote recreational reading.

“The goal is to expose children to different literary genres and to show that independent reading is fun and enjoyable,” Francis said.

Since then, the school has raised the bar for its students each year. The goal for the first year was 700,000 pages. Last year it was 900,000. It was bumped up to a million pages this year. Francis promised her students she would come to school in her pajamas if they reached their goal.

This year's theme was “Journey Through Books with the Magic of Imagination.”

“Not every child can leave our town. With books, they can go anywhere in the world,” said library technician Deanne Wheeler.

Students read alone and to parents and siblings. Family members read to kindergartners and first-graders. Wheeler spent several hours each day poring over daily reading logs turned in by students.

“My shelving went by the wayside,” joked Wheeler whose enthusiasm for books and reading catches quickly.

Students received prizes for each 150 pages they read. The school's PTA chipped in with funding for pencils, sharpeners, erasers, coloring books and kaleidoscopes.

But the rewards that students coveted most were not something that money could buy, Wheeler said.

“They wanted the coupon to be first in line or for that extra book that they could check out,” she said.

Wheeler, like other staff members, has observed the ripple effects of the reading program.

“I see them reaching into their backpacks for books when they are waiting for their parents. A lot of chapter books are getting checked out,” she said.

On a recent morning, the entire school gathered to blow a million bubbles to celebrate the success. Wheeler came in a polar bear costume. And true to her word, principal Francis showed up in her pajamas.



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