It isn’t every day Will Largen has a studio audience for morning announcements.
It isn’t every day the Oakridge Middle School principal as an announcement this big, either.
Of about 4,500 schools that took part in Scholastic’s Summer Reading Challenge, only seven read more than Oakridge’s 1,075,446 reported minutes. The Clover middle school’s eighth-place finish will make the 2013 Scholastic Book of World Records.
Students found out about their achievement on Friday, toasting the occasion, naturally, with 8-ounce bottles of V8 veggie and fruit drinks.
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Largen had dropped hints about the feat for the first couple weeks of school, but he didn’t spill the beans.
More than 193,000 children representing all 50 states and 32 countries participated in the Summer Challenge, logging almost 96 million reading minutes, according to Scholastic.
Two other Clover schools – Crowders Creek and Bethel elementaries – also took part.
The annual contest is less an exercise in precise record-keeping than a motivator for children to beat the so-called “summer slide.” Educators say spending weeks away from school causes students to lose some of the academic gains they made.
“You did something great for yourselves,” Superintendent Marc Sosne told a library gathering of the top 25 readers just after Friday’s announcement. “It’s all about lifelong learning.”
Studies have shown that children who put their brains to work reading over the summer tend to backslide less in the classroom. From required reading lists to incentives to contests, schools across the country seek to incite students to pick up books on vacation.
Gearing up for the Scholastic Summer Challenge, Oakridge held a book fair before the break. Students got a free book for every one they bought. Rising sixth-graders got to choose a free book.
“If you give the kids a choice, the likelihood of them reading goes up,” Largen said.
There’s no way to accurately verify whether every student read for the time logged, Scholastic spokeswoman Lia Zneimer said. But what’s important is that they read at all, and if the Summer Challenge motivates them, it’s worth it.
“It has to be an honor system,” Largen said.
Seventh-grader Danielle Williams paced Oakridge by logging more than 36,000 minutes. Eighth-grader Sydney Mow reread a nine-book fantasy series. Eighth-grader Christopher Conger led among boys.
Students read of football players and fairy tales, even books about the effects of bullying.
“There’s something out there for everyone,” Christopher said.
Oakridge media specialist Kathy Corbiere worked with feeder elementary schools and Oakridge language arts teachers to promote the summer program. In past years there have been school-wide summer reading assignments such as “The Hunger Games.”
This past summer, the theme was student choice. The idea was that students would read more if they could choose what books, magazines or newspapers they wanted.
“They really do enjoy reading,” Corbiere said. “It’s rare to find one book that really engages all readers.”
Corbiere stressed honesty for the more than 900 students, wanting them to submit logs showing no reading if they didn’t read. The school might be able to use reading logs later by comparing them to test scores or other parameters for correlations.
The idea is to confirm what national studies show.
“I want to show our students and our parents – and even some of our teachers – that this is happening and this does make a difference,” Corbiere said.
Top readers are in school book clubs and boast high school-level or better vocabularies. Several say the key is learning to judge a book by it’s back cover, and not believing that there isn’t something of interest out there.
“You just have to look for it,” said eighth-grader D’Hannah Morrison.