Readers race to meet goals

Local teachers and administrators are willing to go to extremes in their efforts to get students fired up about reading. Some extremes Helen Haller Elementary principal Vince Riccobene has gone to include kissing a pig, sleeping overnight on the rooftop of the school building, submitting to a cream pie in the face and sitting in a dunk tank. These feats have all been part of challenges met by Haller students using the Accelerated Reader program.

Accelerated Reader is a supplemental reading program that aims to motivate students and provide immediate results with their reading progress. A student reads a book and takes a short computer test to verify the student comprehended the material. Successful testing earns points, the number of which are based on the book's degree of difficulty. An easy book can be worth 10 points, while something more difficult, such as one from the Harry Potter series, can be worth up to 30 points. A test for an easy book consists of five to 10 questions, while a test for a more challenging book can have up to 20 questions.

To qualify for points, students can read books at school or at home and are permitted to have books read aloud to them.

According to Marsha Omdal, Helen Haller's librarian, there are about 5,000 Accelerated Reader titles in the school library in addition to smaller selections teachers keep in their classrooms.

About 500 students in grades one to five participate in this program.

In addition to the schoolwide goal, there are personal goals set for each student and class, as well as some friendly competitions between classes.

The Accelerated Reader school goal was 14,000 points five years ago when Riccobene came to Haller. Each year the students are challenged to raise their personal goals, raising the school's goal as well. This year, the school's goal is 24,000 points - an increase of 2,000 points from last year.

"It works," Riccobene says. "It motivates the students. It gets kids to read more often and to read for pleasure, for fun."

As of mid-May, Haller's students have accrued 23,000 points. Progress is marked on the Wall of Fame bulletin board in the school library.

Once the school's goal is reached, Riccobene will prepare to get wet again; the dunk tank escapade was so popular in the past, students requested it for this year.

In a show of support, other Helen Haller faculty members also are preparing to be dunked. The dunking is slated to take place before the end of the school year.

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