Alex Ortell, 10, considers himself an avid reader. So when his teacher, Jolinda Mattison, announced a book-reading initiative that would help victims of Hurricane Katrina, he quickly hopped along for the ride.
"She told us to read 100 books, and if we did we’d donate 100 books to people of Katrina," Alex recalled. "I think it’s a great idea for us to help people whose homes and schools got destroyed."
The effort was part of the national "ClassroomsCare" project. For each class that reads 100 books, Scholastic Book Clubs in turn donates 100 books to children in need. A special emphasis has been placed in 2005-06 on hurricane victims.
Alex pitched in by reading four books, including Maniac Magee as well as a couple of ghost stories. Combined, Alex and his fellow fifth-graders at Elmira’s Holy Family Intermediate School reached their quota by early January — well before the Feb. 17 deadline.
"They just jumped right on it. They did a wonderful job," Mattison said.
Holy Family Intermediate is also emphasizing hurricane relief through a partnership joining itself and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish — where the school is located — with Our Lady of Lourdes parish and school in Slidell, La., which were devastated by Katrina in late August. Mattison said Holy Family students were well aware of the hurricane’s wrath before the book-reading project began.
"This school is very good at bringing things from the outside into the school," Mattison said, noting that youths have often mentioned Katrina in their special prayer intentions.
Seton Catholic in Brighton is another diocesan school taking part in ClassroomsCare. There, the two fifth-grade classes have gone well past the 100-book standard.
"Oh yes, we’re getting closer to like 300," said Kathleen Francis, who oversees language arts for the homerooms she and Dave Beikirch teach.
Francis said students have combined ClassroomsCare with the annual "25-Book Reading Challenge," a statewide project. Students who read 25 books during 2005-06 get to attend a year-ending pizza party; as of mid-January, Seton Catholic fifth-graders Thomas Catapano, Alex Cove, Anna Creatura, Maggie Pryslak and Alexandra Samsonik had completed the challenge. In addition, Francis said the fifth-graders take part in the Accelerated Reader Program in which they take follow-up tests on books they have read, earning points to be put toward prizes.
Holy Family Intermediate and Seton Catholic are among numerous diocesan schools emphasizing book-reading. Other Catholic schools that have notified the Courier of their efforts are:
* St. Rita’s School, Webster: According to Jenny Bay, school librarian, students read 9,000 books by last April for the 2004-05 Accelerated Reader Program. St. Rita’s music teacher, David Heed, then challenged the youths to read another 1,000 books; when that goal was met, Bay gave Heed a Mohawk haircut. Thus far in 2005-06, students were on pace to reach 9,000 by March. Among the rewards for their reading will be a dress-down day; party with a disc jockey; movie night; and a sleep-over.
* St. Lawrence School, Greece: First- and second-graders read more than 3,500 books in last year’s Accelerated Reader Program. The entire school also takes part annually in Read Across America Day, celebrated on or close to March 2 — the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Among the activities are the appearance of a guest artist or author, as well as staff and children dressing up in theme-related costumes.
* Christ the King School, Irondequoit: Nancy Wilson’s first-grade class is focusing on animal books this school year — with a tentacle being added to a "Set Sail with SpongeBob" bulletin board each time a book is completed. Among the class’s other reading activities are the making of hand-made books; parents and students taking turns reading books to the rest of the class; and a monthly children’s author series.
* Siena Catholic Academy, Brighton: Interested seventh-graders are taking part in a Junior Great Books discussion program after school from January to March. The group is led by volunteer Barbara Flynn who is the grandmother of Elijah Flynn, a seventh-grader at Siena.
* St. Joseph’s School, Penfield: March is "D.E.A.R." (Drop Everything and Read) Month, for which students sign contracts to read each day. When a daily bell rings, students in the school stop whatever they are doing for 15 minutes of reading. Prizes are given to youths who fulfill their contracts.