Reading program vrooms into school

Events to get more boys to read include car show and radio-controlled races

November 26, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

Verna Horsey blew up a green balloon and helped Alex Sandmeier attach it to a tube on a toy race car. The 5-year-old put the car on the floor, hoping it would zip away in a flash. But the car lurched about two feet and sputtered to a stop.

"Oh no," groaned Horsey, a fourth-grade teacher at Hickory Elementary School. "That one was a dud."

The Bel Air kindergartner giggled while Horsey blew up another balloon.

This time he let go of the car and it sped across the floor.

"Wow! 110 inches! You're one of the top racers today," Horsey said.

Horsey put Alex's name on a board where she was recording distances. Then she gave him a sticker.

Alex joined hundreds of children and their parents at the school on a recent Saturday for a reading incentive event called Driven to Read, which was started as a way to encourage fathers to read with their sons.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show that boys score worse than girls in reading in every age group, said Kay Smith, a reading specialist at the school.

"So we wanted to create a reading incentive that would interest both boys and their fathers," Smith said.

The program included reading games, radio-controlled racing for kids and a car show that was open to the public.

For the games, each participant received a bag containing a flier about the program, a car-shaped notepad, a bookmark, a list of 10 ways to encourage reading, and a note card with a sticker showing part of a car.

Each pupil took the note card to each of the stations set up in the school gymnasium. After they finished a game, the pupils received stickers needed to complete the car: exhaust pipes, flames, flags, wheels, air-intake pipes and stripes.

Trophies, ribbons, racecar tattoos and comic books were awarded for some events.

Radio-controlled car racing was also featured, with kids racing their cars down a strip next to the parking lot.

A car show attracted more than 50 vehicles. The cost to enter the show was $10. The proceeds go toward the school's goal of raising about $45,000 for playground equipment.

Although fundraising was a goal, the main motivation for the event was getting more boys to read. The idea was born last year after a reading program with a camping theme failed, Smith said.

Only one father and 70 of the school's 700 pupils attended that event, she said. Event coordinators wanted a theme that would get the boys more excited about reading and pull in more fathers.

"Boys don't read as much as girls," Smith said. "And dads get into sports. So we thought maybe a car racing theme might work."

Smith was pleased with this year's turnout.

"I've never seen this many parents attend an event at our school," Smith said. "There are a lot of parents here that would not necessarily show up for any other events."

The program also served to get the community involved in a school function, said Principal Gail Connolly.

"There are men and women with their cars out in front of the school that don't have children that attend Hickory, but they are out here to help support us," she said. "This project is good on a lot of levels."

A case in point was Jim Teague, who entered his 1969 Firebird in the car show.

"My children, my wife and I attended Hickory Elementary," the Street resident said. "We don't live in this community any longer, but this program gave us a chance to do something to support the school. Education is the number one thing in life, and we as a community should do anything we can to give future generations a brighter future."

The program will continue with activities throughout the school year, Smith said. The pupils have calendars for documenting how much time they spend reading at home, Smith said. Each month the reading time is logged and displayed on a poster in each classroom as a car adorned with the teacher's photo makes progress around a racetrack depending on how much pupils read.

"The students have never gotten so interested in filling out their reading calendars," Smith said. "Last year we gave out mugs, and we had 30 percent participation. This year about 80 percent of the students are participating. And it's all because of the competition. Students want their teachers to get around the track first."

The program provides a way to spend time learning with children, said Shay Burrows, a parent from Bel Air.

"My son has been so excited about coming to this event all week. I've been gone, so I saw it as a way to come out and spend time with my children," said Burrows, a structural engineer. "It's a great way for parents to interact with their children in a personal way as they learn."

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