Third-grader Shea Sweeney wants to read “a hundred” books this month. His classmate, Theo Johnson, has an even more optimistic goal: 5,672.
The students are two of dozens looking to meet their reading goals as part of the Shelburne Community School’s first read-a-thon, a month of literacy-geared events going on until March 10.
The read-a-thon is a way to track students’ reading, encourage them to read more and to raise money for the Shelburne Parent Teacher Organization. A bedtime story party, character or author costume day and a book club are all set to follow last Thursday’s event — a book swap — where the two third graders were eyeing books and enjoying food. Piles of books on tables lined the hallways at the school and oodles of art supplies lay on tables in a busy room that night.
“I’m just excited because I want to try and find a Roald Dahl book,” said Sweeney, who is Caitlin Barbell’s homeroom.
He and Johnson have reading goals that are through the roof. But some have tempered outlooks. Phoebe Heller-Goodrich, in Kevin Kareckas’ homeroom, hopes to read a more practical five books this month. Heller-Goodrich likes reading and would be reading read-a-thon or not.
Still the event provides a little more motivation. “But I’m not in it to win it or anything,” the fifth grader said.
The theme of the event is “Everybody Reads” because the school wants to send the message that everybody is a reader, whether they are an adult, a kid or a teacher, AnnMarie Anderson, parent and PTO member, said.
How it works is the kids will track their reading time outside of school, and their collective minutes will be displayed on a bulletin board in the front lobby using a thermometer graphic the fourth graders designed. Community members can check the scores or donate to the cause online, too.
There are no individual winners of this competition, Anderson said. “We’re all celebrating reading together.”
Friends and family can choose to sponsor a child’s reading — with the money going toward the PTO. However, Anderson said, “the goal is really to get everyone reading, and that’s a secondary goal. I think it’s a great opportunity to promote reading for everyone, and to show children that parents and friends read too, and also to encourage kids and families to read more at home.”
For kids too young to read independently, family members can still read aloud to them and have the minutes count toward the cause.
The read-a-thon is one of the first big in-person events the school has had since the COVID-19 pandemic started, replacing the role book fairs used to have.
“We’re always encouraging students to pick up a book and find their passion in reading for pleasure and reading for information,” school principal Alison Celmer said.
“The students are already very engaged in reading ... But we do also have a smaller population who are not that excited about picking up a book and they don’t access it that often,” Celmer said. “So, this is another way to kind of reach those kids as well.”
If students find themselves with a bit of reading paralysis, they have many places to turn. “In addition to many adults in the building who are all resources for the kids, we have a literacy team,” Celmer said. “We have our school librarian and all the classroom teachers.”
Additionally, students only need to look at the hallway walls to find book recommendations posted by teachers and other adults in the school.
“There’s a buzz around the building right now of exchanging great book titles,” Celmer said, heightened by the upcoming February break, when the kids will get some down time to sit with the books they have been hearing about.
With a name like read-a-thon, it’s hard not to picture students racing each other to the finish with the most books read. Nobody’s winning or losing this time, but the idea of a contest seems like an extra push for some of the kids.
“It’s something to do for fun,” Sweeney said during the book swap festivities, “and also a little friendly competition.”
Deniz Dutton is a reporter with the Community News Service, a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost.
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