The WOW! Read­ing Chal­lenge

The Casket - - Local - SAM MACDON­ALD sam­mac­don­ald@the­cas­ket.ca

The Peo­ple’s Place in Antigo­nish, and the other li­braries un­der the Pictou-antigo­nish Re­gional Li­brary ban­ner, are call­ing upon the youth of Antigo­nish and Pictou Coun­ties to do one thing; read.

With the up­com­ing launch of the WOW! Read­ing Chal­lenge, this will be an op­por­tu­nity for youth to do more of that – com­pet­i­tively, to boot.

John Kennedy, co-or­di­na­tor for the Adopt-a-li­brary Lit­er­acy Pro­gram, said the read­ing chal­lenge is putting a com­pet­i­tive spin on the age-old pas­time of read­ing for plea­sure.

"We made the sport of lit­er­acy out of it, try­ing to get kids to ex­er­cise their mind. The more they ex­er­cise their mind with the sport of read­ing, the smarter they be­come," Kennedy said.

The Pictou-antigo­nish Re­gional Li­brary founded the read­ing chal­lenge 12 years ago, along with the help of Kennedy, a re­tired mem­ber of the RCMP.

Kennedy said the pro­gram was the re­sult of a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween him­self and li­brary staff, on how to get younger peo­ple mo­ti­vated to read more. "We started [a read­ing chal­leng­ing] in Salt Springs El­e­men­tary as a trial, to see how many books the kids could read in a one-month pe­riod," Kennedy said, not­ing it only evolved and grew from that point.

The orig­i­nal slo­gan of the pro­gram, Kennedy noted, was, "fight­ing crime, one book at a time," im­ply­ing the be­lief that "if we help the kids read to­day, we can keep them out of jail to­mor­row." Lit­er­acy skills, they agreed, were key to achiev­ing that.

"It’s now a lit­er­acy cham­pi­onship. Any school in the world can join – it doesn’t cost any­thing," he said of the pro­gram, which is man­aged by the Pictou-antigo­nish Re­gional Li­brary.

As the read­ing chal­lenge hap­pens ev­ery year, more and more youth are vo­ra­ciously read­ing. Kennedy noted that, in past years, stu­dents have been go­ing through so many school li­brary books, their thirst for more has been bring­ing them to lo­cal li­braries.

"It’s a lot of fun. If we can get young peo­ple hooked on read­ing early on in life, they’re go­ing to read for their en­tire life,"

Kennedy said. "If we can get them started at pre-school, by the time they hit Grade 3 or 4, they’re read­ing and en­joy­ing books."

The read­ing chal­lenge in­cludes di­vi­sions for par­tic­i­pants of all ages – from day­cares and preschools to high school-level read­ing, and peo­ple of all ages are en­cour­aged to par­tic­i­pate.

New this year to the chal­lenge will be pri­vate, sep­a­rate and home schools.

"It worked ex­actly as planned, in a sense," Kennedy said. "The more time kids spend in li­braries, the less they’ll spend roam­ing around the streets with noth­ing to do. They bought into it a lot stronger than I even thought they would. We’re reach­ing about 16,000 stu­dents a year, who are par­tic­i­pat­ing in this."

The WOW! Read­ing Chal­lenge runs Nov. 1 to April 1, a time­line in­tended to en­cour­age read­ing through­out the aca­demic year. About 80 schools in Nova Sco­tia par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gram at the el­e­men­tary level, av­er­ag­ing about a mil­lion books a year in the pro­gram.

At the ju­nior high and high school lev­els, the av­er­age pages read by all stu­dents par­tic­i­pat­ing is just more than a mil­lion, "but last year was an ex­cep­tional year and they read 1.7 mil­lion pages – quite a jump over what we ex­pected," Kennedy said.

Kennedy stressed that the ben­e­fits of pro­grams like the read­ing chal­lenge are man­i­fold.

"What we found from teach­ers in­volved in the pro­gram is that read­ing keeps the kids busy on days they can’t go out­side due to the weather, and two, it oc­cu­pies them, so they don’t have down­time," Kennedy said. "In some cases, reg­u­lar read­ing has helped with elim­i­nat­ing bul­ly­ing in schools."

"What we’re do­ing is unique, so I don’t have any other lit­er­acy pro­gram to com­pare this to. But in my mind, any­time you can get over 16,000 peo­ple read­ing in a con­test that spans six months, and they’re read­ing the number of pages and books they’re read­ing – that shows me we’re on the right track."

Kennedy also at­tributes a de­cline in bul­ly­ing to it be­ing a team pro­gram where of­ten, the children who strug­gle with read­ing get as­sis­tance from the more pro­fi­cient read­ers, since stu­dents have to work to­gether to be suc­cess­ful.

"In essence, stu­dents tu­tor other stu­dents with­out them even know­ing they’re tu­tor­ing them," Kennedy said. "It’s much the same as in hockey or base­ball, where the more you prac­tice, the bet­ter you be­come."

The chal­lenge is free, and open to all schools, preschools, pri­vate and sep­a­rates schools and home schools in Pictou and Antigo­nish coun­ties.

Want to join?to

regis­ter a school or preschool, con­tact Karen Mac­neill at kmac­neil@nsgp.li­brary.ns.ca, 902-755-6031 or 1-1866-779-7761.

For schools out­side of Pictou or Antigo­nish coun­ties, con­tact John Kennedy at aal@parl.ns.ca, 902-755-6031 or 1-866-779-7761.

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