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West Rocks Kids Rack Up Frequent Reader Miles

West Rocks seventh-grader Chantel Williams is on a trip around the world. So far she’s made it to Nairobi and hopes to be in Beijing by the Chinese New Year. Williams and other middle schoolers are earning miles by reading.

It’s all part of the year-long book-a-thon “Read Around the World,” where each volume counts for miles toward the 30,000 mile trek.

“Before, I didn’t really like reading, [but] now I’m starting to like it,”  says Williams, who has read seven books since the start of the year. So far, her favorite is the vampire novel “Cirque du Freak” by Darren Shan.

“Our goal is to create a buzz in the school about reading,” says Mark Bonasera, assistant vice principal, who is spearheading the project. “We are fostering a culture of literacy here.”

Bonasera and the school’s language art teachers designed the program over the summer as a way to boost reading skills, and in particular reading scores on the CMTs. They also want to encourage students to read a broad range of books. “We especially want to reinforce non-fiction reading,” says Rebecca Sabol, a seventh-grade language arts teacher. “Reading is a key to closing the achievement gap.”

All the books are recorded in a passport. Once a month, students are entered into a raffle for reading and win prizes provided by local businesses.  Students conference regularly with their teachers, who suggest books. They also write book reviews, which are shared on morning announcements. “There’s a friendly competition among the students about the number of books they are reading,” says Bonasera.

The entire school staff, including teachers, aides and librarians, are onboard, too. They write the book they are reading outside of their classrooms and offices. “What I am reading: The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas,” is written outside a French classroom.

Though the goal is 15 books per student, eighth-grader Mitesh Parmar says he doesn’t keep track of how many he reads any more. “More than 20, for sure,” he says.  “It’s great to get stuff for doing what you normally do."

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