Involving families in literacy-building activities is a year-long endeavor at Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School in Silver Spring, Maryland. When staff members discovered that their students' reading scores weren't improving as hoped, they took action to motivate the students to read and to get parents involved.
"We began our first school-wide reading initiative with the Book It! reading incentive program for grade six two years ago," L. Karen Greene-Turner, the school's reading specialist, told Education World. "This motivational program coincides with the county curriculum guide that suggests that all students read at least 25 books per year. Student participants are encouraged to set goals for the number of books they want to read each quarter. Once their goals are met, each student receives a Pizza Hut coupon. This is a monthly incentive which begins in October and ends in June."
During the first six weeks of school, the middle school's media specialist spearheads an annual library card drive. Students are encouraged to sign up for a county library card, and each year more than 100 students in grades six to eight receive them.
"In the month of November, we participate in the National Young Readers Day Celebrity Read-In, which is part of the Pizza Hut reading incentive program," Greene-Turner reported. "Some of the noted readers who have participated over our two years are journalist Kathleen Mathews, Comcast Sportsnet anchor Chick Hernandez, NBC 4 WRC-TV news anchor Eun Yang, soccer player Rafael Rodriguez, writers, administrators, and parents."
The celebrity event has been one of the school's most popular activities. Monthly data showed that the number of books read independently by sixth graders increased by 30 percent in the following month. Parents enjoyed taking part and were impressed by the professionals who volunteered their time to read to the children.
"Family Reading Week is another incentive program for grades 6-8," explained Greene-Turner. "In early spring, we invite students and their families to read together at home and keep track of their hours. The families that log the most hours during the week from each grade are selected as the winners. Past prizes include Lee license plate frames, reading slogan magnets, and gift cards to local businesses."
For Greene-Turner, Family Reading Week is the most memorable of all of the school's literacy efforts. Although this recent event was not highly publicized due to state testing and spring break, after a few family "winners" were announced, more students came forth to ask if they could still participate. Many of those who joined in this activity already have plans to be a part of it again in the coming year.
Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School has worked closely with area sports teams to encourage recreational and independent reading as well. The Bowie Baysox, a class AA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, sponsors a reading incentive program. Each student is asked to read four or more books in three months, and those who do receive a ticket to game. Last year, more than 100 students took part.
Another team, the NBA's Washington Wizards, offers free tickets for students through its community partnership program. Ticket redemption has been based on completion of academic after-school programs such as reading or math intervention and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) programs. Qualified participants attend basketball games at least twice per year.