WINFIELD — Clearly, something must be happening at Winfield Elementary School when fifth-graders who sell milk at lunch can be observed reading between customers.
"I see students reading at lunch all the time," said Principal Raymond Mathias. "I see teachers reading. It's really caught on here at Winfield."
It's not that reading was never among the basics at Winfield Elementary. It's just that an incentive program called "Hop Aboard the Reading Railroad," initiated in January, has spurred interest in books the way "Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles" has boosted fascination with the martial arts.
"Kids stop me in the hall all the time and say, 'I read such-and-such a book,' " said Kathy Wallis, the school's reading specialist. "I can see a lot more interest in kids checking booksout of the library."
About 75 percent of the students met readinggoals established by teachers for January and February. Under the reading program, students are required to read for a certain amount of time each day. Times vary with grade levels.
Students who meet their monthly goals receive token rewards, such as stickers or bookmarks, and become eligible to win prizes which have ranged from free yogurt and game coupons to gift certificates from local stores.
The real incentive, though, is a ride on the Maryland Midland Railway at the end of the school year. Students who meet each of their monthly goals receive a free ride on Midland, as long as a parents buys a $5 ticket.
Wallis said the incentive program represents the work of teachers, parents and local businesses. Parents have been involved at various levels, securing prizes and coordinating visits of various guestreaders, who have included educators like Dorothy D. Mangle, director of elementary schools.
First lady Barbara Bush and former OrioleBrooks Robinson were unable to accept student-written invitations toread at the school.
Most Carroll elementaries feature reading incentives during the school year, but Winfield's is a "very concentrated program," integrating reading with other lessons, said Joanne C. Strohmer, Carroll's supervisor of reading/language arts.
"That's kind of unique," Strohmer said. "Winfield has found a unique way of doing things. They're putting all the pieces together. Some children prefer non-fiction reading, and the program helps address their needs."
She said different reading skills are required for different academic areas. The program, she said, is helping apply reading skills in areas such as science and poetry.
Reading has been incorporated in other activities, too. March, for instance, was Children's Art Month,and the school held a design-a-T-shirt contest for the reading program. April is guest reader month and more school and county officials will visit classrooms.
"I think students, as well as parents, havebeen excited about the program," Wallis said. "Kids are inviting people to read and are seeing their letters answered. They're seeing literacy at work."
Part of Winfield's success, as well as those of programs at other schools, stems from the district's integrated language arts curriculum.
The result, said Mathias, is students who are better prepared for their lessons and who are asking tougher questionsof their teachers.