The foyer at St. Lawrence School in Greece has been turned into a large racetrack this year, with teachers serving as a pit crew. But, Principal Joseph Holleran noted, there’s no need for students to don helmets in order to compete in the AR 500.
The AR 500 is a reading challenge based on the Accelerated Reader Program, in which students read select books and then challenge themselves with computer-based questions about those books, Holleran said. The AR 500 steps that program up a notch by pitting the various grade levels against each other on the racetrack.
"As books are read and students challenged on them, each grade earns points to move its classroom car along a huge racetrack set up in the main foyer," he said.
The AR 500 is just one of many lively initiatives teachers and principals at diocesan Catholic schools utilize to encourage students to read. At St. Lawrence and beyond, reading is recognized as one of the most important processes for children to learn, use and love throughout their lives, Holleran said.
"It is our passion to instill a love for lifelong reading in each of our children," he said.
Holleran said St. Lawrence teachers in each grade model good reading habits, a practice that is very familiar to Suzanne Giovenco, fourth-grade teacher at St. Mary School in Canandaigua. Giovenco said she loves to read and show her students how to make reading fun so they’ll hopefully continue reading as they get older. In Giovenco’s classroom reading is more than just a fun activity, however.
"I am a believer in using literature as a teaching tool," she said.
Giovenco incorporates both reading and real-life experiences into her social-studies curriculum as often as possible. For example, when Giovenco teaches her students about Native American history in New York state, she has the students read Mary Jemison: Indian Captive, a book about a white girl kidnapped and raised by Native Americans, and she brings the class to Ganondagan State Historic Site, where they tour a full-size replica of a Seneca longhouse.
It’s never too early to encourage a love of reading, noted Jean Mercandetti, kindergarten teacher at St. Mary School. Before they enter kindergarten, most of Mercandetti’s students have been exposed to reading by their parents or their preschool teachers. Most can identify letters, and some have a basic knowledge of letter and sound identification, Mercandetti said. Her task is to help students learn that each letter has a sound, that letters work together to form words and that words work together to form sentences. This is a complex task, but one Mercandetti said she finds quite rewarding.
"It is so exciting for the children and for me when they realize that they can read," she said.
Mercandetti reads aloud to her students each day after rest time, and she said this is one of the most wonderful times of the day for students and teacher alike.
"Even the wiggliest student loves story time and will sit still as I read," she said.
Students in preschool, kindergarten and first grade at St. Michael School in Newark also love story time, especially on "mystery reader" days, said Suzanne Tulloch, the school’s public-relations and development coordinator. On these days, held once a week, a parent, friend or family member pays surprise visits to the classroom to read a favorite story, Tulloch said.
St. Michael students also participate in Pizza Hut’s Book It! program, through which each child may earn a coupon redeemable for a free personal pan pizza for every 10 books read each month. More than 90 students have earned a total of 837 coupons since October, Tulloch said.
First-graders at St. Francis-St. Stephen School in Geneva, meanwhile, participate in the America Reads! program, said Principal Elaine Morrow. This program pairs the youngsters with students from nearby Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and the pairs read together three times a week, much to the younger students’ delight, she said.
Most Catholic schools have well-stocked libraries and librarians eager to help students find a good read. Most children enjoy reading about kids their own age, and older children seem especially interested in biographies, noted Mary Pioli, librarian and enrichment teacher at Mother of Sorrows School in Greece. Third- and fourth-grade boys seem to enjoy comic books with complex story lines similar to those of novels, while girls in second through fourth grades seem to gravitate toward books about puppies and kittens, said Betty Scanlon, librarian at St. Rita School in Webster.
Motivating children to read sometimes becomes more difficult when those children reach junior high, added Elizabeth Berliner, principal at Holy Family Junior High School in Elmira. Berliner’s teachers encourage eighth-graders to break into small groups to discuss books they’ve read. Seventh-graders work on creative book reports in which they can design radio ads, movie posters, poems, rap songs or top-10 lists about what they learned from the book.
"Reading projects can be an enjoyable way for students to utilize their creative talents to share information about a book that someone else might enjoy," Berliner said.