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Program Hauls
In Huge Catch
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Challenged to create a program that encouraged the kindergartners at Roger Wolcott Early Childhood Center to read in school as well as at home, Betsey Lepak created "Hooked on Books." The program, which she based on some of her own experiences as a student, generated friendly competition and gave recognition to the classes as they worked toward a collective goal. Classes kept track of every book that they read both in school and at home in the hope of earning a special reward.

"The highlight for students was the opportunity to play host to the fish for a week," reported Lepak, a family resource center leader. "In each of two kindergarten halls, the class with the greatest number of books read for the week -- which were represented by paper fish "caught" in a basket -- got to keep a bowl with two beta* fish for one week."

With "Hooked on Books," kindergartners record the titles of books they have read on paper fish and vie for the reward of caring for a pair of beta fish in a bowl. (Photo provided by Betsey Lepak)
Lepak hoped that the students in the two halls would not communicate closely enough to discover that there were actually two bowls of fish. The fish were provided free of charge by a local pet store that also offered guidance and replacements, if needed. Of course, each class received an opportunity to care for the fish at some point during the program. The paper fish in the basket served as a motivational tool and visual representation of the students' progress.

In addition to a flyer that went home with the Windsor (Connecticut) students, Lepak visited the kindergarten classrooms individually and discussed "Hooked on Books" as it began.

"The students got to know me as I entered their classrooms to introduce the program and to reward them with a reading of A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer and deliver the fish. The book's practical message of following directions through providing only a pinch of food for the fish was perfectly timed," Lepak told Education World. "I loved being recognized as the lady with the fish!"

The children clearly spoke about "Hooked on Books" with their families because their parents were aware of it and supported the program by reading with their children. One parent volunteered to purchase the Palmer book for each classroom. Teachers were wowed by the fact that the program required little effort from them but greatly increased the students' desire to read, especially outside of school.

"Due to its success, the teachers are requesting this program again," added Lepak. "Kindergartners at our school move on to neighborhood schools, so this program remains new for the students even as it is duplicated year after year."

* beta fish is a more common spelling for the genus known scientifically as bettas

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