School places 6th in national summer reading challenge
The students at St. Aloysius Catholic School spent two solid days this summer reading.
With about 1,000 students participating, that works out to more than 2.9 million minutes grappling with books, enough to vault the private school in Baton Rouge to sixth place in Scholastics’ annual Summer Challenge.
The challenge pitted St. Aloysius against almost 4,500 schools in 31 countries over the course of three months. The top school was Jackson Elementary School in McAllen, Texas, which logged more than 6 million minutes.
On Monday, Scholastic’s regional manager, Tony Smith, came to Baton Rouge to hand the school a banner and a plaque. Smith arrived to an Egyptian-themed book fair where teachers dressed up like pharaohs, and Principal John Bennett performed a version of Steve Martin’s comic song, “King Tut.”
Scholastic, the book publisher and education group, started this annual competition in 2006 as a small way to combat the “summer slide,” where students forget what they’ve learned during the school year, necessitating weeks of review at the start of the new school year.
The challenge is simple. During the summer, families go online to Scholastic’s website and log every minute that their children read books, either on their own or with their parent’s help. They are supposed to keep up week-to-week, but as the deadline nears, families get one last chance to log minutes they forgot to log earlier. Scholastic doesn’t track what books students read and relies on the honor system.
At the end of the summer, Sept. 6 to be exact, the company adds up the minutes and recognizes the schools with the most minutes.
This summer was St. Aloysius’ first time participating.
Its 2.9 million worth of reading minutes single-handedly put Louisiana in the top 10 in the United States. The school, which was one of 29 schools participating in Louisiana, accounted for 83 percent of the state’s reading activity, meaning it logged six times the minutes logged by the other Louisiana schools combined.
Head Librarian Anne Blanchard served as field marshal for the school’s conquest of this reading challenge.
Blanchard said that after the results were in, a Scholastic representative called her to ask what St. Aloysius had done to motivate students to read in such high numbers right out of the gate, maybe a stunt, like getting to embarrass the principal perhaps?
“All I had to do was just show them this,” Blanchard said.
She then pointed to a map of the United States Scholastic published, showing in darker colors the states were in the top 10 in the 2012 summer reading challenge. Louisiana was not one of them.
“They wanted to put Louisiana on the map,” she said.
Stacie Granier, a first-grade teacher, said the whole school got involved.
“We all read, even the teachers,” Granier said.
The evidence is festooned to the walls of the library. The wall, starting with kindergartners and going all the way to eighth-grade, is covered with small camels. Each camel — remember the theme for this book fair involved Egyptians — has the name of student and how many minutes they read this summer. They range from kindergartners with just a handful of minutes to an eighth-grader with more than 12,000 minutes.
Walking around the school’s campus at 2025 Stuart Ave., the school’s emphasis on reading and literacy is evident.
Granier’s first-grade class spent Thursday writing short descriptive essays on the monsters in Maurice Sendak’s classic, “Where the Wild Things Are,” complete with attempts at redrawing those monsters.
In the library, Blanchard read to a group of second-graders, sitting atop a saddle — a camel saddle, in fact, which she borrowed from a parent. She regaled the students with “The Viper,” reading the story in a Dracula-kind of voice, a book about a window wiper with a pig as the protagonist.
“It’s a suspense thriller, with a surprise at the end,” she explained.
Granier said the school’s lively approach to the topic is no accident.
“We want them to read for enjoyment,” she said. “We want them to know reading is fun.”