• Kindergarten aide Leticia Thomson reads with second-grader Annalise Thompson in the Immaculate Conception School gymnasium Dec. 19. Students brought their pajamas, blankets and favorite books to school to celebrate winning the Diocese of Rochester’s Fall Reading Challenge.

Ithaca kids reap reading's rewards

By Jennifer Burke/Catholic Courier    |    01.17.2014

Students at Immaculate Conception School in Ithaca recently read their way to a triumphant victory in the first-ever diocesanwide Fall Reading Challenge, which was held Nov. 4 through Dec. 6.

Each of the school's 83 students in preschool through eighth grade read an average of 25 books during the challenge, bringing the final tally of books read by Immaculate Conception's children to 2,071. Principal Donald Mills rewarded his students' efforts with a Dec. 19 pajama party, during which diocesan officials presented the school family with a large silver trophy.

"The Reading Challenge Cup will travel from school to school with winners engraved on it, like the Stanley Cup in hockey," explained Jeffrey Green, associate superintendent of the Diocese of Rochester's Catholic schools.

Green said he devised the Fall Reading Challenge as a way to get kids excited about reading. A number of recent studies have shown a very strong link between the amount of reading children do at an early age and the amount of schooling they later complete, and well-read children often achieve higher education levels than those who don't, Green said

"This is regardless of parental-education level, regardless of socioeconomic status, regardless of location," he said. "The more reading you do, even before you reach school age, the more likely you are to graduate high school and go on and get your associate's, bachelor's or master's degrees. That to me just makes it amazing."

Green spread the word about the challenge in early November and posted forms on the diocesan website for teachers to use when recording and reporting the number of books their students read. Students, teachers and parents responded so enthusiastically that by the end of the challenge, students at the 20 Catholic elementary and middle schools within the diocese had read more than 28,000 books.

The faculty at the various schools throughout the diocese devised their own ways of motivating their children. The faculty at Immaculate Conception created a train engine out of cardboard and then added a "car" for each book read by a student. Each of those cars bore the book title and name of the student who read that book, and by the time the challenge was over the train stretched through several hallways and staircases throughout the school, Mills said.

"It ran throughout the entire building. You kind of need the visual, especially with the 3-year-old pre-K kids," he said. "One of our preschoolers read 64 books at home with their parents. That's dedication, especially at a 3-year-old level."

Students in all grade levels were committed to the challenge and read everything from children's books by Dr. Seuss to the books of the Bible, Mills said. They were in Immaculate Conception Church after a school Mass when they learned their school had won the challenge, he added.

"When they heard that we had won the reading challenge ... the kids that were in the chorus were jumping up and down. They were really excited," Mills said.

Green purchased a celebratory cake for Immaculate Conception students to enjoy during their Dec. 19 pajama party, and the local Knights of Columbus distributed certificates of achievement to the students. Mills said he invited Green, Superintendent Anthony Cook and Immaculate Conception parents to join in the celebration. The students were encouraged to bring blankets and their favorite books, and a local radio disc jockey read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" to them.

Green said he is hoping to build on the momentum gained during the Fall Reading Challenge by holding a similar challenge in the spring. Mills said he will continue to encourage his students to read as much as they possibly can, even between challenges. The challenge is about more than trophies and pajama parties, he said.

"This was all about making literacy fun and rewarding. Obviously we got our numbers in, but that doesn't mean we stop reading," Mills said.

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