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West Jordan Journal

Columbia Elementary reads 2 million minutes, not stopping for summer break

Jun 18, 2018 12:15PM ● By Jet Burnham

Angela Drope said most books donated to the Book Mobile came from Tooele and Grantsville residents who answered her request on social media. (Angela Drope/Columbia Elementary)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

When Kathe Riding came to Columbia Elementary as principal 11 years ago, she challenged students to read 1 million minutes. It took a few years before they reached their goal. For this, her last year at the school, she asked students to reach for a total of 2 million minutes.

They answered with 2,147,097 reading minutes. 

“You’ve made my dream come true,” she told the students. “This is my best gift ever.” 

During the school year, students were motivated to reach benchmarks on the way to 2 million. There were random drawings for free books and classes competed to earn the right to have a stuffed Snoopy in their classroom for reading the most minutes each week. The most popular reward was music in the cafeteria during lunch. 

At the end of year assembly, the total was announced to the enthusiastic students. The top classes were awarded with a traditional decorated hubcap to proudly display in their classroom. From a random drawing, four lucky students won a 5-pound chocolate bar. 

Several teachers promised to dye their hair purple when the students reached their goal and surprised students the day of the assembly. Teachers had another surprise for students to celebrate reaching their reading goal—they sprayed them with silly string during the assembly. 

Once the students calmed down, Riding encouraged them to continue reading throughout the summer. 

“Reading is a super power for your life,” she said. “Reading is going to build your vocabulary, it’s going to build your confidence—it’s like money in the bank. Everything you read is like putting money in a savings account.” 

For the last two years, Columbia has sent their students home for the summer with materials to continue their learning during the summer. 

“We’re making sure they don’t have the ‘summer slide,’ so they don’t lose what they’ve learned,” said teacher specialist Angela Drope. 

Summer slide is a term to describe children’s tendency to forget what they learned the previous year when they return to class after a three-month break. 

 “It’s where people don’t use their brain, and they forget some things,” said teacher specialist Suzette Johnson. “It’s that gap between June and August that we’re concerned about.”

Students received a packet of materials that included math flash cards, handwriting practice and a book. “These are activities they can do during the summer so that they can keep their learning alive,” Johnson said. 

This year, each grade was sent home with a classic book like “The BFG” or “Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse” or books from popular series like “I Survived” and the early reader “Biscuit” series. 

“I think it’s important to keep reading during the summer,” said sixth-grade teacher Jennica Bodenhofer. “You can tell that their reading level has grown over the summer if they read or their parents read to them versus those who don’t.” 

Riding said the effect from last year’s summer packet was an 8 percent increase in schoolwide reading proficiency scores. 

Bodenhofer said any kind of reading is beneficial, even if it is not at the child’s reading level. The main purpose is to keep brains active over the summer. She believes writing is just as important.

“The backbone is the reading and the writing,” she said. “You have to read to write and vice versa.”

She said any kind of continuous writing, like in a daily journal, will strengthen elementary students’ academic skills. 

“I think writing is one of the most important things to practice, especially at their age,” she said. 

To make sure students have access to reading materials during the summer months, Columbia teacher specialists are providing a mobile book exchange for families. The Columbia Book Mobile will provide a lending library where kids can borrow and return books during the summer months.