By Chris Hendrickson
If minutes were dollars, these Sultan Elementary students would be millionaires.
This year’s school-wide goal is two million minutes of extracurricular reading, and the students are well on their way to meeting it.
Sultan Elementary School’s Read-at-Home program was developed to encourage kids from first to fifth grade to spend more of their free time reading books. The incentive-based program encourages kids to read for a minimum of 20 minutes per day, adding up to a monthly minimum of 300 minutes. Prizes are offered to the kids who meet their goals.
“We’re seeing our kids wanting to get their next book and getting excited about that, and talking to their friends about books instead of video games,” said Laurel Anderson, principal.
Jan Gill, a paraeducator at the school, is the chairperson of Read-at-Home and has facilitated the program for ten years. Each student is given a reading-themed calendar at the start of the month, and each day after school, they log the minutes they spend reading. At the end of the month, the parents sign off on the calendar and kids turn them in to their teachers. Gill coordinates with the teachers to collect all the calendars, totals all the minutes read, and tracks the information in a database.
Students are given a variety of different prizes for meeting their 300-minute monthly reading goals; bookmarks, bracelets, pencils and necklaces are given out, as well as the opportunity to get additional rewards in a raffle.
Polly Bridgewater is the parent volunteer for Read-at-Home and has been working with the program for two years. After her first year of volunteering, she quickly realized that she wanted to do more.
“That’s when I started going out and networking, and talking to the community,” she says.
Bridgewater has recruited many local businesses for participation in the program, greatly expanding the incentives that are offered. Wanting to offer more significant motivation for kids, she has developed an incremental system for rewarding the readers who meet their reading goals.
Currently, almost 300 of Sultan Elementary’s 500 students actively participate in the Read-at-Home program. The rewards build in relation to the student’s accomplishments. In addition to the monthly awards, the kids are given the chance to earn free recesses, popcorn parties, ice-cream parties and even special assemblies.
In March, the kids who had met their reading goals for three consecutive months were given the opportunity to get out of class and attend an assembly featuring locally-renowned motivational speaker Greg Bennick. The entertainer mesmerized his audience, students and teachers alike, by juggling while giving commentary on the importance of reading and creativity.
Local businesses and residents came together to help sponsor the event, including Monroe Orthodontist Dr. Maxwell of Dr. Max Orthodontics, Carnation resident Mary Komarnintsky, Redmond resident Alayne Dovin, and Duvall resident Linda Cole.
Other contributors who donated prizes for the event included the Reptile Zoo and Main Street Books, both located in Monroe, children’s book author Barb Ullman of Duvall, and Debbie Copple of Sultan.
Bridgewater continues to work toward additional recognition awards for the kids as they meet different landmarks. She is planning on a developing a special award for the kids who continue to read and meet their goals over the summer.
Last year only about 60 percent of students turned in their summer calendars, said Bridgewater, and she would like to see that number come up.
She also has plans to seek additional community involvement for her new reader-of-the-month incentive plan. Each class has a reader-of-the-month, who is recognized for meeting a significant milestone in relation to reading. Bridgewater is looking for a company willing to sponsor the reader-of-the-month program for nine months, via a small monthly donation.
In addition to the local businesses that donate incentives, Bridgewater also creates her own. Classes who achieve 100 percent student participation in meeting the monthly minimums for three consecutive months receive the “Giant Cookie Award,” which she bakes herself.
Bridgewater has incorporated many Sky Valley businesses into her incentives program, including Sweet Indulgence, which provides “Book Worm Certificates” entitling the students to one dollar off treats, Active Martial Arts and the Sky River Bakery, all based in Monroe. Sultan businesses Galaxy Chocolates, Red Apple, Flat Iron Gallery and Thrifty 4 You also participate in Read-at-Home.
Bridgewater sees the opportunity for business involvement in the program to be a win-win situation, and is excited to garner additional support next year. Not only are the prizes inspiring kids to spend their free time reading books, it helps businesses by increasing their exposure.
“I’m hoping we’re helping the community, as well,” she said.
Sultan Elementary’s scores on the Washington Measurements of Student Progress test seem to reflect that they are definitely doing something right. The school’s reading scores are significantly above the state averages for third, fourth and fifth graders.
Sultan Elementary has been named a School of Distinction for two years in a row.
In order to reach the goal of two million minutes by the end of the school year, the 300 or so students actively participating will have to read a little more than 111 hours each. It’s looking good; as of the end of January, Sultan’s Read-at-Home program logged well-over one million minutes of extracurricular reading.
For information on how to become involved in the Read-at-Home program, donate money or items or sponsor a student event, contact Polly Bridgewater. She can be reached through Sultan Elementary at (360) 793-9831.