A little night reading

Sleepover: A group of Hamilton Middle pupils stays up late reading then sleep in the school library as part of a program to encourage kids to read for pleasure.

May 14, 2000|By Nora Koch | Nora Koch,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At 3:20 Friday morning, when the classrooms at Hamilton Middle School are usually silent and the hallways empty, 11-year-old HollyannVickers closed the book she was reading and settled down to sleep - in the school library.

Hollyann, with about 10 other sixth- and seventh-graders spent Thursday night at the Northeast Baltimore school for Read In! 2000, an international program encouraging students to read for pleasure. Hollyann's endurance won her a $20 book gift certificate for staying up latest to read.

"I'm having fun and I get to read a lot," said the sixth-grader, who said she never dreamed she would spend the night at school. Hollyann said she is usually in bed reading by 7:30 on a normal school night, and asleep by 9.

Hamilton Middle was one of 13 schools in Maryland participating in the program. The 6-year-old, California-based program started as an Internet connection between two schools in California and Oklahoma and has grown into an event that meshes reading and technology.

On Thursday, students in 13 countries connected to Internet chat rooms to ask questions of such popular children's authors as R.L. Stine of "Goosebumps" fame and the Berenstein Bears creators, Jan and Stan Berenstein.

"I have the hook with technology to get the kids into reading," said Jane Coffey, 51, founder and director of Read In!, who lives in central California.

"The first thing that kids say to me when they're new to the computer lab is, `Can I go on the Internet?'" said Coffey. "So the first thing I say back to them is, `Can you read?'"

Coffey's nonprofit organization arranged for 22 children's book authors to answer students' questions online for half-hour blocks and helped teachers figure out how to connect to the chats. The rest was up to the schools.

Hamilton Middle School began Read In! 2000 at 8 a.m. by broadcasting to every classroom by closed-circuit TV a video of Principal Vera Holley reading "Once Upon a Potty" to her 4-year-old grandson, Darnell. Teachers and pupils continued the reading-aloud vigil, pulling 15-minute shifts reading from their favorite books and passages until the school day ended at 2:30 p.m.

That's when the real fun began.

The overnight crew, selected by teachers for being among the top readers in each homeroom, set up camp in the media center. The group, eight girls from the sixth grade and a lone boy, seventh-grader Carl Stubbs, set to its first task: make up a set of rules for the evening.

He said some of his male friends who were supposed to stay for the sleepover decided they would rather watch wrestling. But the gregarious 13-year-old did not let that bother him."I'm here just to hang out and have fun," he said. "When I was little, I didn't have a lot of help with reading. Now I'm doing good."

He said he has read about 30 books this year, a big increase from last year when he hardly read one.

The all-night event complements Hamilton Middle's emphasis on reading. The first half-hour of each day is dedicated to pleasure reading. Pupils read in their homerooms on the way to a goal of reading 100 books before eighth grade.

Thursday evening, after a spaghetti dinner in the cafeteria, the overnighters retreated to the library and changed into pajamas.

As the evening wore on, pupils decorated T-shirts with their reading slogan, "Read to Succeed." They read aloud with teachers and guests, then settled down at 11 p.m. for the competition of who could stay up the latest reading. The contest ended when Hollyann couldn't keep her eyes open any longer.

Hamilton's event mirrored others across the country and elsewhere in Baltimore.

In Essex, students at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School brought in sleeping bags and read all day, while some chatted online with authors. Last year, students at the school wrote a "Read In! Rap" that has been copyrighted and posted on the Read In! Web site for classes in the program.

At Hamilton, organizers hope to make Read In! an annual event. Teacher Lynda Anozie, one of the coordinators, said schools need more events that celebrate reading.

"Kids think they have to decide if they are going to take the technology route with computers or do reading, and the literature and arts," said Anozie. "Kids see here they don't have to choose."

The pupils who spent the night in the school library greeted Friday morning a little sleepy-eyed but without regrets.

After a breakfast of french toast and scrambled eggs, school was back in session, and the pupils were back in the classroom. The night before, Anozie promised that if anyone fell asleep in class, she would take the blame.

"We want to change the culture here," Anozie said. "Instead of celebrating basketball, we want to celebrate reading. This is how we do that."

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