Young Readers Take Up the Challenge in Franklin

Franklin Central School 100 Book ChallengeAsk any teacher, and they'll tell you that the ability to read easily and with good comprehension is a telling indicator of a child's future success. But if good reading skills are the goal, what's the best way to get there? That hasn't always been so clear.

Research now indicates, however, that for many kids it boils down to "more is better." The sheer amount of reading a child does is such a strong predictor for comprehension that it can even "outweigh intelligence, economic background, and gender," according to John T. Guthrie, professor at the University of Maryland.

So far so good. But what if you're a small school district (300 children) located in a farming community in upstate New York, with a town library that's also small and only open part-time, and a school library with a very limited supply of books? More might be better, but "more" wasn't on the horizon in Franklin, Delaware County.

Franklin Central School knew it needed to find a better way to help its kids with reading, and it had heard about the success other schools were having with the "100 Book Challenge," an integrated reading system that delivers books, program materials and on-site professional development to participating schools. The program brings students, teachers and families together to read, and engages the kids by providing books that are fun to read. Children are given a bag of books; they take them home, read them alone and with their parents, then bring them back to exchange for a new bag. The target for each child: to read 250 hours over the school year. For every hundred hours of reading, they get a medal and school-wide recognition.

There was a catch: The program would cost more than $12,000 for grades K-3 (90 children), and Franklin CS didn't have it. That's when Principal Jason Thomson applied to the Community Foundation. After considering the District's proposal, the Foundation's Board awarded a grant of $10,000 toward the program's start-up.

"It's been absolutely incredible," says Thomson. "I expected it to go well, but I didn't expect it to go as well as it's going." The children love the program, he says. Many kids have far exceeded the 250 target hours, some reading up to 700 hours. Thomson estimates that 90% of the third-graders who took the ELA this past January scored a 3 or 4 (4 being the top score), a significant improvement over last year.

"I've had a ton of parents come up to me and say, 'I can't believe how well this program is working,'" says Thomson. "If you get a kid reading, that's the secret. All you've got to do is get a kid excited about reading, and the rest will fall into place."

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