100 million words to the wise

Oh, the things an educator will do to inspire her students.

Horace Mann Elementary School Principal Rosa Alonso supervised a playground celebration Wednesday from the school roof, fulfilling a whimsical promise she made to motivate the campus to meet its goal of reading at least 95 million words during the academic year.

“At the last assembly, which was a week ago, they were at 94 [million words],” Alonso said. “I said, ‘If you guys reach 100 million, Mrs. Alonso is going up on the roof.’”

Mann’s 680 students rose to the occasion, downing books with titles such as “Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants” like a caffeine addict downing cups of coffee. All students were expected to participate, and school officials tracked their progress using educational software.

At year’s end, they met and then exceeded the word count originally set in the fall by the student council.

“The teachers reminded them every day to read for homework,” said student council president Everly Pompa, 10.

And Wednesday, the students got their reward, spilling onto a playground filled with moon bounces. They stopped occasionally to wave and smile at their principal, who looked on from above.

“Boys and girls, congratulations for meeting your goal. You did an awesome job,” Alonso called through a megaphone. “Are you ready for the big bash?”

Each child left the celebration with a new book, donated by the nonprofit literary organization Reading is Fundamental.

The annual reading challenge is part of a larger effort at Mann to inspire students to make picking up a book part of their daily routine, Alonso said. Primary students and their parents are encouraged to read a minimum of 20 minutes a day, while upper-grade students are pushed to read at least 30 minutes.

Many students come from non-English-speaking homes where access to literature is minimal, Alonso said. And a few years ago, the school was struggling to get all of its students reading at grade level.

“Now, we have really focused on developing fluency, and decoding,” Alonso said. “I would say about 95% of our kindergartners leave kindergarten reading. That is huge. We didn’t have that.”

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