Justus Gage Elementary has big prizes for reading month

Published 8:09 am Thursday, March 28, 2019

DOWAGIAC — During the month of March, nationally recognized as reading month, Justus Gage Elementary classes and students competed for classroom glory, books and free bicycles with literature and personal discipline.

Students were encouraged to get in personal reading time at home not only to win free books and to be placed in a drawing for a free bike, but also to contribute to an inter-classroom competition to see which class could fulfill its reading quota by the end of the month.

“Reading is my superpower” was the mantra at Justus Gage during March. The month-long theme was in honor of Aly Wheeler, a Spiderman fan and former para-pro at Justus Gage who passed away in January. Each classroom had an iconic superhero representing it on a large bulletin board on a wall just a few feet from the main office. Each superhero stood over a bar on a graph that represented how much cumulative time students from each class spent in personal reading time. By Tuesday, some classrooms had achieved their collective reading goals; their bars filled to the top with square sticky notes.

The classroom reading tracker was only one of the inspirations for students to get into personal reading. Individual students who fulfilled their own reading goals during a given week were awarded free books. Students who met their weekly reading goals for the whole month of March were placed in a drawing for a free bicycle. On Friday, four bicycles will be given to students who fulfilled their reading goals, two of which were donated by the Dowagiac Free Masons and two from the local PTO.

Aside from the free stuff and the classroom competition, third-grade teacher Alison Yeo said the end goal of reading month at Justus Gage is to keep students interested in using their time to read and discover.

“Reading is super important, and we’re trying to encourage them to do more at home,” Yeo said. “We’re encouraging them to build their vocabulary and reading skills with a big push on it in March leading up to spring break. (Reading) is definitely a super important lifelong skill.”

Yeo did not shy away from noting the challenge of getting some students interested in reading, even for a half hour or an hour.

“It’s difficult getting them to stop playing video games, even for 25 minutes,” Yeo said. “They’re used to reading here. This is the same thing (students) could do at home, it’s just taking the time to do it. It’s a struggle to get them all there.”

Even with the difficulty of galvanizing student interest in reading, reading month has reminded her and other Justus Gage teachers that children do have an inherent interest in imagination and engaging their minds.

In the 2018-2019 school year, Yeo’s students have read “Because of Winn Dixie,” “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” and “Frindle,” in class. Her students also have a particular interest in joke books and graphic novels.

“As long as they’re reading something, I’m happy,” Yeo laughed.