On March 22nd, 2015 The New Century School launched its first-ever Read-a-Thon, which ran through Spring Break. To say that the event was an unqualified success is true on several levels. Collectively, TNCS students read about a ton of books, the school earned an impressive amount of funding for playground equipment and greenhouse materials, and the already-strong TNCS community galvanized in an altogether new way.
Before we get carried away with all of the excitement, though, let’s give some well-deserved credit to the mastermind behind this plan—three cheers for TNCS K/1st-grade teacher Teresa Jacoby! Hip hip hooray!!!!
Mrs. Jacoby, who specialized in literacy, says she has experience with the idea of read-a-thons, having put one together for a graduate school project. “I wanted to find something that would make kids interested in learning but also benefit the school, so I put together my own read-a-thon.” Fast forward to this, her first school year at TNCS, and she has does it again—but this time drew on some external resources. She says she really likes the ease and convenience that readathon.com affords. “Kudos to the people who designed this website,” she said. “Everything has been super easy to initiate and track, and the kids really seem to love it. They are reading, and that’s the important thing.”
TNCS students, indeed, read up a storm. Fledgling readers gained confidence and took off, confirmed bookworms luxuriated in the additional reading time allotted to them, and several readers progressed from picture books to chapter books during the event. Parents logged on with their special child-specific codes, set the timer for 10, 20, or 30-minute sessions, and word after word, sentence after sentence, page after page were hungrily absorbed by the eager readers. It was amazing how happily everyone embraced this endeavor!
In fact, the embrace soon spread. Originally slating the Read-a-Thon as a K/elementary event, Mrs. Jacoby opened it to the primary students once requests from primary parents started to pour in. (Those Montessori language drawers in the primary classes really work!) One key part of Mrs. Jacoby’s involvement was in making sure students had access of plenty of books to be able to read independently. She sent home Reading A to Z books for her students and also increased the number of books students could check out of her classroom library from two to five.
So how did this all start? Mrs. Jacoby says that TNCS teachers were lamenting that students did not have more games to play outside during recess, and the lightbulb went off in her head. “I think a Read-a-Thon is a good way to raise money. It’s really nice to have friends and family support reading. For example, I just loved the notes that supporters were leaving for participants.” She went on to say that many of her students were on the brink of becoming fluid readers and that the Read-a-Thon represents that little push over the hump they needed to achieve reading ease. So, she brought the idea to an elementary staff meeting and was given an immediate green light. (And also volunteered to handle the project start to finish—win-win!)
From the start, the Read-a-Thon was a hit. Even the other elementary teachers were surprised at how quickly funds began accumulating. Of course, the TNCS community always faithfully supports TNCS initiatives, but perhaps a key difference with this particular fundraiser is that it involved the kids in a very integral way. It’s one thing to ask for donations to help achieve a specific goal; it’s quite another to make that donation contingent on active student participation in the form of learning. Sign us up!
TNCS students will actively participate in another important way: They will have a say in what is purchased with the money they helped raise. Moreover, they are the end-users of whatever outdoor equipment and materials are bought, so they are vested stakeholders in this outcome! “I want the kids to be involved in all aspects of this,” said Mrs. Jacoby,”the reading, the raising money, and what we do with that money.” Ideas so far include a zipline, monkey rings, and some kind of alternative to swings, which TNCS is unable to have in the given space. An outdoor classroom with chalkboards is also being discussed with a possible archeological dig site included (the dinosaur bones, alas, would most likely have to be artificial). And, oh yes, parents, sports and games are very much a part of these brainstorms. We might see something along the lines of an outdoor ping-pong table, but no definitive purchases will have been made until the most effective use of resources has been determined. In addition, Mrs. Jacoby says she would like to see each TNCS class get a raised garden bed to individually tend, with the various beds producing at different times so TNCS students are harvesting year round. Another very exciting idea is to raise chickens. Baltimore City would allow TNCS to keep five at a time, and one of the farms that TNCS regularly orders lunch ingredients from could potentially be asked to overwinter them.
There is no shortage of ideas, she says. “I like that the students will be able to do so much more outdoors, and I also really like that the Read-a-Thon means that TNCS students are reading independently. I hope every year it grows and becomes the ‘Big Spring Thing’.” TNCS teachers don’t like to give a lot of homework over Spring Break, but using that time for the annual Read-a-Thon would keep kids’ minds engaged yet won’t interfere with family time or plans. Books are eminently portable!
Annual? That’s right. Mrs. Jacoby spoke excitedly about how each year the funding theme could change. Maybe next year we’ll raise money for the school library,” she said. Here again, TNCS students would act as stakeholders, identifying any gaps in current content coverage, for example, and suggesting topic areas to buy books in. This is a double boon—“Students would not only be looking at and reading all of the books in the library, but they would also be asking us to order what they’re interested in,” she said. Having books that they are interested in makes all the difference, especially for boys, she has learned from experience. “Make it available to them.”
“The more that children are encouraged by everyone around them to read, the less intimidated they will be, and the more they will read,” said Mrs. Jacoby. “I am so grateful that everyone participated!” You can see additional details, such as more parent comments and totals raised ($3,925!) by visiting TNCS’s dedicated Read-a-Thon page at http://www.read-a-thon.com/school/The-New-Century-School_4792.