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Reading and Math "Carnival" Equals Low-Stress
Test Prep


"Reading and Math Mania has evolved -- or essentially, steamrolled -- into a school-wide event that is almost like a festival of learning and establishing relationships," observes Stephanie Taylor. "It has become a mainstay of each school year."

Although it started off as a small gathering of teachers and parents which easily fit inside the cafeteria, the event at Merrimack Elementary in Hampton, Virginia, quickly became a larger affair that spread to all parts of the school. The cafeteria is now devoted exclusively to serving food to the many participants.

[content block] Designed to prepare students for upcoming standardized tests, Reading and Math Mania brings together students and parents for an evening of fun that provides abundant take-home activities to help the students practice and reinforce skills required to perform well. In addition to simple review, the event also lessens the anxiety associated with the testing.

"Game formats like paper football and mazes are less intimidating than traditional worksheets. The students eagerly play the educational games, without realizing how much learning and positive reinforcement are taking place," says Taylor, a parent involvement facilitator. "Our thinking is that the more practice students have at using their acquired skills, the more comfortable and prepared they will be in applying the skills during test situations."

In a carnival-like atmosphere, teachers demonstrate creative learning activities as families join in those that are most relevant to their children's grade level. The entire staff comes together to make the event a success, and Taylor reports that it is truly a win-win for all involved. Most meaningful for her are the firsthand reports from parents who receive what they most need from the event with regard to information about "new" math skills or ways to overcome academic hurdles.

"There is nothing like the smiles of gratitude and the relief shared when parents are able to help their children make the connections they've been missing," Taylor told Education World. "Sometimes it's as simple as changing the approach."

Planning for this event begins at the start of the school year. Volunteers form committees that are responsible for obtaining community sponsorships for food and door prizes, grade-level activities, sign-in, set-up, clean-up, photography, serving dinner, providing child care, and more.

"The improvements that we make each year have to do with logistics and assessing the changing needs of the families that we serve," Taylor explained. "For instance, we made resources available for parents with young children so that they would be able to focus on getting the information they need to help their school-aged children, without being distracted by the younger siblings. We've learned to use older siblings in middle or high school, as well as staff members, to help with this effort."

Reading and Math Mania not only reveals the strengths of students and teachers of the school but also allows staff members to become better acquainted with the students' families. The relationships built through the event are vital to enhancing student learning. Every family receives a bag of "goodies" at the end of the evening to continue their test preparations at home.

"Due to the incentives offered, this is by far our most well-attended event, and we seize the opportunities it presents to help us get to know our families by connecting with them on a personal level in an open and lively setting," Taylor added.