MOUNT AIRY -- Fifth-grader Jennifer Condry has gone all around the country 17 times, without ever leaving Mount Airy.
And while she and her classmates were traveling through the world of books, the Mount Airy PTA that hatched the reading contest won a National PTA award for its innovative program.
Mount Airy PTA President Michele Hennessey Kantruss will go to San Diego this month to pick up the award. She came up with the idea as a way to get children to spend more time reading.
Jennifer, daughter of John and Sherrie Condry of Meadowlark Avenue, was an avid reader even before the contest, going through about five or six books a day. Her favorites are the Baby-sitter Club books by Ann M. Martin.
"I still would read a lot of books, because I love to read," she said. She logged the most minutes in the school, going "around the country" 17 times.
Progress was measured on a large map of the United States, with eight different stations. A small marker in the shape of a tennis shoe held a student's name. When that student read for 300 minutes, the tennis shoe moved to the next station.
Because the contest measured minutes spent reading instead of the number of books read, students who don't read as quickly as Jennifer get an equal shot at prizes.
Children who went around the country at least once took home Olympic-like medals Wednesday at an awards ceremony.
To keep the enthusiasm going since last October, the PTA gave out monthly prizes to students who read 300 minutes a month, which translates to about 15 minutes a school day.
"That's why so many children participated -- it was easy to do," said Melanie Schmidt of Taylorsville, a member of the PTA.
But most students put in more than 300 minutes a month. Jennifer logged about 5,000 minutes each month, she said.
The prizes were small items like rulers, yo-yos, note pads and erasers.
Assistant Principal Ruth Riddle said only a few students chose not to participate. Although the activity was not required or part of any classroom work, about 97 percent of the school became involved, partly because of the monthly prizes.
"After the first month, some kids who hadn't participated decided they wanted a piece of the action," Riddle said.
"Most of the kids in my class just read for fun, not competing," Jennifer said. But the incentives in the program meant that a few students "put a little more effort into it, probably."
Some children had no support at home to read, Schmidt said. To help encourage them, members of the Mount Airy Rotary Club volunteered to come in for about a half-hour before school started, to read with children one-on-one.
Schmidt said the best result of the contest is that parents have noticed their children watching less TV.
She had tried to get some federal attention for the Mount Airy program since hearing reports from the U.S. Department of Education that children read too little and watch too much television.
"I called up and said, 'I beg to differ,' " Schmidt said.