Students at Horizon Heights and H.D. Hilley elementary schools didn’t spend the summer just watching television or playing video games.
The youngsters read millions of minutes, earning the two campuses entry into the top 10 schools with the most reading minutes in the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge.
The two campuses recently celebrated their accomplishments. Horizon Heights students slimed their principal Jenifer Hansen and covered her with Silly String during a morning celebration. At H.D. Hilley, classrooms with the most top readers celebrated with pizza, popcorn and ice pop parties.
“It does say something about how quickly our schools have embraced the idea that reading can be a fun and an exciting activity to do whenever and wherever they are,” said Marcy Sparks, SISD’s library service coordinator.
Beginning each May and continuing through mid-September, the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge encourages students to read and log in all their minutes during the summer months.
In 2016, Mission Ridge passed Hurshel Antwine at the last second to finish in first place, which earned the school a visit from Scholastic’s Summer Reading Road Trip RV.
This year, Horizon Heights was leading throughout the summer, then H.D. Hilley snuck in during the last days of the contest to take the top spot. Overall, SISD district logged in almost 6 million minutes, improving the overall minutes earned in 2016 by almost double, Sparks said
For H.D. Hilley Principal Fernando Miranda, winning the reading challenge showed his students they could accomplish anything, even when it is sometimes challenging for students to find books outside of school.
“This is a huge accomplishment,” Miranda said. “It’s enormous. These students aren’t near a public library. The only free books students can check out is in our school library or the Little Free Library that sits in front of the school. That’s why this is such a big deal.”
Horizon Heights has participated in several reading challenges during the last several years, said Shannon Ortega, the school’s librarian.
“But this year our principal challenged the students, promising she would let them cover her in slime if we could reach a million minutes,” Ortega said. “We not only read that much but we are No. 10 in the United States and No. 2 in SISD.”
On the day of the sliming, Hansen showed up at school with normal everyday clothes and jewelry. Her only protection was a pair of goggles. As soon as she knelt in a kiddie pool, student after student poured the slime on her head and then shot Silly String non-stop.
“I knew I was going to be oohey, gooey and I was so scared,” Hansen said. “But that’s OK because I am one proud principal. My children know how much I care about them. This is about them knowing that their principal sets goals, too, for them. They have to set personal goals, but so do I for them.”
Spreading the love of reading
Jared Barraza, a 10-year-old from Horizon, was one of the lucky students picked to slime the principal. He earned the right because he read more than 5,000 minutes.
“I love to open a book,” Barraza said. “I enjoy the story. But reading also helps me with my school work and improves my vocabulary. I want to become a doctor, so reading is going to be very important for my work. How can I read about illnesses and other things if I can’t read?”
It’s this kind of thinking that Horizon Heights teachers, the librarian and the principal have instilled in their students. The saying around the school, thanks to Hansen, is “Readers become Leaders.” Her focus for the challenge was to make students read for pleasure and not let it become a chore.
“Are there benefits such as vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, absolutely?” Hansen said. “Reading is that foundation for all other curriculum, subjects in our school. But this competition was about reading for the love of reading. It is about a journey. When you open a book, it takes you to a location, to a place. This was about reading for the love of reading.”
Sparks believes more students are starting to feel that way. Across the district, more and more are picking up books and reading. School administrators and staff are doing an outstanding job of encouraging it and providing time for students to read.
“Our librarians are making a concerted effort to provide access to reading materials a lot easier, especially in areas without public library access,” Sparks said. “Eastlake feeder schools all got Little Free Libraries before the summer break and that may have helped. We have also been showing our students how to access eBooks and audiobooks from home.”
In addition, the challenge makes students feel part of something bigger than themselves, she said.
“We promote the event as reading for fun, and all summer students make choices about what they want to read – whether it’s an instructional manual for a new game or reading your favorite book for the third time,” she said. “It’s a freedom that embodies the excitement of summer!”