After one summer and 335,950 minutes of reading, students at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary are ready to jump back into the school year without missing a beat.
This is thanks in part to the school’s Reading is Great in Summer, or RIGS, program established in 2001 by a few dedicated first-grade teachers. While working on their master’s degrees, Gloria Sweeney and Kristi Felchle decided to test a theory that reading over the summer could help kids retain what they learned from year to year, Sweeney said.
Their idea was confirmed when they compared the spring and fall test scores of students who participated in the very first RIGS program and found they were still testing at the same level as when they had left school.
“It was noticeable that they were within the same range as they were in the spring, so they were able to take right off in the new year rather than spending a couple of weeks recouping what they lost,” Sweeney said.
More than a decade later, RIGS is a full-blown, bi-annual event that celebrates reading milestones and encourages kids to pursue reading throughout their seven years at K-Beach Elementary. After the 135 students who filed their reading logs this year were recognized and given prizes for their hard work, one student was honored above the rest as the new Queen of Reading.
Kaytlyn Walden, a sixth-grader, was given a crown and an extra gift for the 18,760 minutes of reading she completed over the summer. She is also one of seven students whose names will go up on a plaque in the school for participating in RIGS every year they were eligible.
“I found some books that I really liked and I … couldn’t stop reading them every day,” Walden said while accepting her prize. “I would hide in my room for hours, to the point where I had to get grounded from reading to do my chores.”
Principal Nate Crabtree will surprise several mystery students who managed to read more than him over the summer with hot cocoa in his office, where they will talk about their favorite books. Rewarding good reading with more things related to reading is how his school establishes it as a long-term habit, he said.
“We’re teaching skills that last a lifetime, and we’re trying to partner with families and communities to establish those habits that will keep going throughout (and) beyond their years with us at K-Beach,” Crabtree said.
Crabtree bet the students at the end of last school year that they couldn’t out-read him as a way to encourage friendly competition and dedication to the program. Over the years, RIGS has grown in size thanks to the support of organizations like Tesoro, the Soldotna Rotary and the VFW, all of which contribute to RIGS by donating prizes and other support. The work that goes into organizing and executing the program is not without its own reward, Sweeney said.
“The great thing that I feel, is that other schools now in the district are picking up on it,” Sweeney said. “We’re first grade teachers. We teach reading all year. These little ones work so hard to become good readers, so anything we can do to encourage that and continue it is well worth it.”
Crabtree said the school has a goal to hit 500,000 minutes of reading in one summer, and that the program will continue making strides to accomplish that.
“We’re still hungry to improve upon what we’ve got going here,” he said.