Meeting the reading ch-ch-challenge

Superintendent Ernie Bartelson, Elementary Principal Joe Worsham and teacher John Ragsdale reward students with a selection of railroad songs.

Superintendent Ernie Bartelson, Elementary Principal Joe Worsham and teacher John Ragsdale reward students with a selection of railroad songs.

OROVILLE – Each February the students at Oroville Elementary are challenged by their principal to shake off the winter blahs and revitalize their involvement in reading.

This year was no exception. It was a high-stakes challenge this year, as Principal Joe Worsham doesn’t believe in setting goals lower than the previous year. Last year the goal was set at 2,332 books for the month and students accomplished that before the month was half over. They read 5,934 books in total during February of 2009. So this year, Mr. Worsham set the initial goal at 4,000 books! In keeping with our “All Aboard the Learning Express” theme for the year, he told students that he would don the striped overalls, work shirt, red bandana and hat of a train engineer for a day and go to each classroom to read a train story if they could read those 4,000 books. Anticipating their success, he planned other incentives for every additional 500 books read during the month. At 4,500 the staff would sing their own version of I’ve Been Working on the Railroad to the students at an assembly, led by Mr. Worsham and accompanied by Dr. Ernie Bartelson, the superintendent of the school district. If students could read 5,000 books, Mr. Worsham agreed to wear a train engine cutout and lead a “train” of students through an obstacle course, designed by P.E. teacher John Ragsdale, in the gym during the assembly. At 5,500 books he would serenade the students with a trio of railroad songs, again accompanied by the musically inclined Dr. Bartelson. Finally, if the students could top last year’s total and read 6,000 or more books during the month, they would get to have an all-school movie and popcorn (a train movie, of course).

Well, it was touch and go for a while. At the end of the first week, students had read 1,234 books, which is a lot, but still left a lot of books to go to get to 6,000. Did we mention that these could not be just any books? Oh, no, no, no. The books had to be “just right” books for our second to sixth graders, meaning they had to be in the students’ actual grade level or reading level as determined by a standardized test. Kindergarten students, Transition students and first grade students could choose any book and could be read to, but all (K-6) students had to pass an Accelerated Reader quiz with a score of 80 percent or higher for the book to count for Mr. Worsham’s challenge. During the second week of February, Oroville Elementary students added another 1,538 books to their total and another 1,511 books were read during the third week. They had reached that first goal! Mr. Worsham was going to have to trade his wonderful, wacky ties that we all love for an old-fashioned red bandana and his business-like attire for overalls and a work shirt.

Students were just not satisfied with that, though. Down to the final week in February, they dug in their reading heels and by the end of the day Monday they were only eight books shy of the 4,500 book goal. By the end of Tuesday they had passed that and were only 57 books short of the 5,000-book goal. On Wednesday, students “put on the steam” and brought their grand total to 5,551 with a 600+ book day. Thursday met with a reading frenzy and students accounted for 653 books, breaking their previous day’s record and bringing the grand total to 6,204 books. The final day students were wondering just how many books they could read. Could they wind up with a number that would be nearly impossible to top in the future? If you know how Oroville Elementary students respond to a challenge there should be no doubt in your mind. Students topped their record again, reading 656 books. The grand total for the whole month was an astounding 6,872 books, which translates to 15,492,733 words!

There were many wonderful things that went on during the month of February that helped our students enjoy and appreciate reading, and that made our staff appreciate and be proud of our readers. During the month of February, book circulation in the elementary library nearly doubled. Fifty-four students made every single book they read during the month count toward the challenge. Those students were: Hadley Blasey, Makenzie Fogg, David Hernandez, Noah Hilderbrand, Jessica Snider, Meladie Young, Kyra Koepke, Katie Maynard, Tony Sanchez, Wyatt Shearer, Natalia Carrillo, Jasmine Hoffman, Victor Segura, Carson Allie, Emma Bocook, Olivia Finsen, Madelyn Martin, Vickie Martinez, Michael Oaks, Emily Rawley, Vicky Castrejon, Kensie Hugus, Kloey Iverson, Adam Johnson, Sami Turner, LeRain Wallace, Austin Bernard, Taralynn Fox, Gwen Hankins, Alli Harris, Wyatt Cousineau, Hunter Johnson, Jingy Sykes, Elijah Burnell, Alexia Campos, Hunter DeVon, Jerry Milholland, Cameron Bol, Hannah Hilderbrand, Tori Kindred, Sydney Thorndike, Tylynne Watkins, Hunter Martin, Taylor Minarcin, Narya Naillon, Sandra Hilstad, Nathan Hugus, Brentt Kallstrom, Andrew Newman Brandon Bol, Joseph Johns, Logan Mills, Faith Taylor, and Nathan Thrasher.

Whether reading just a few books or many, every student was actively engaged in reading during the month. 99.6% of our students read at least one book that helped achieve our goal. Second and third grade students read to our kindergarten students.

A second grade student told a kindergarten parent, “Wow! Look at him! He had to answer 10 questions-and he got them all right!”

Second grade teacher Cheri Breshears said, “I have never had a class be so excited about reading to younger students.”

Sixth grade students read to Transition and first grade students. Sixth grade teacher Julie Schildgen commented, “Teaming the two grades up was an awesome experience with benefits for all. The 1st graders got in a lot of extra reading practice, and it helped the 6th graders to develop patience and understanding and to feel good about helping others.”

First-year teacher Dan Vassar’s third grade students read 1,000 books during the month. Students in his class were surprised with a train-themed cupcake display, created by Oroville paraprofessional Susan Smith, to celebrate their whole-hearted participation in the Principal’s Challenge.

One of Mr. Vassar’s students said, “You (Mr. Vassar) told us that reading is part of becoming a life long learner, that’s what makes reading during the Principal’s Challenge fun.”

The first Tuesday and Wednesday in March, Oroville Elementary students were treated to the sight of their principal and superintendent dressed up in train engineers’ garb as those two gentlemen visited classrooms reading classic train stories. Thursday, March 4, students filed into the elementary gym to be congratulated for their amazing accomplishment and to have Mr. Worsham “pay up,” completing the other requirements of the challenge. A student from every classroom was recognized for helping that class make progress toward the overall goal with a specially designed t-shirt and the chance to be part of the train that Mr. Worsham led through a twisty-turny obstacle course. Sixth grade students provided the horsepower for moving the train cars along behind Mr. Worsham. Next, everyone was serenaded with a medley of train songs including The Wabash Cannonball sung by Mr. Worsham and Dr. Bartelson who also played electric guitar and John Ragsdale, also on guitar. It was a terrific celebration of a tremendous accomplishment. As the closing activity, staff members sang You’ve Been Working on Your Reading with Mr. Worsham, ending with the words “You won’t hear me complaining, when you put me thro
ugh this test. I’ll just keep explaining; Oroville kids are best!”

The principal added, “Being relatively new to working in an elementary school, I am truly amazed at the numbers our students have produced during the Principal’s Challenge this year and last year. For 296 students to read almost 7,000 books and over 15 million words during the shortest month of the year is awe-inspiring. Obviously, I am extremely proud of our students, but I am also proud of our staff and parents for encouraging and enabling the students to excel and to break the school record for reading during the Principal’s Challenge two years in a row. Wow!”