AMERICAN FORK — The sign outside Shelley Elementary flashed "No School Monday," but 18 fourth-graders showed up at the American Fork school on President's Day hoping a read-a-thon would get them closer to collectively winning something special.
The school is one of 40 Utah elementary schools participating in "Be a Team Player — Read!" — a reading contest sponsored by the Utah Jazz. The contest requires students to log the number of minutes they spend reading outside of class for one month. The 10 schools that report the most minutes of reading, as well as a randomly selected 11th school, will receive a visit from Utah Jazz team members.
In last year's contest, more than 21,000 students read a combined total of about 17.3 million minutes, according to the Utah Jazz website.
The contest, which concludes Tuesday, "encourages students to develop a life-long love of reading, while emphasizing the importance of literacy and the value of teamwork," according to the Utah Jazz.
To Linda Warnick, a fourth-grade teacher at Shelley Elementary, there are other "prizes" to be won from reading besides a visit from Jazz team members and treats at a read-a-thon.
"Some of my struggling readers are getting excited that there's a story in a book," Warnick said. "It helps them understand other cultures, other people, and helps them think about things at a deeper level. I want them to understand that reading can take you somewhere besides where you are."
Warnick says students are better able to understand the value of reading when it becomes a social event for them.
"Hopefully they'll understand the importance of reading by being around other kids that are reading," she said. "I've noticed some of them sharing what they're reading and asking questions about what this or that means."
Fourth-grader Justin Ruchti, 9, says reading is an opportunity to "learn while you're not at school."
"Some people say reading is boring and that they'd rather spend their time playing video games," Justin said. "I say ... reading is awesome."
Bryce Dawson attended the read-a-thon with his 9-year-old daughter, Sarah. He said he was pleased to see kids involved in activities that are both fun and educational.
"I think it's great," Dawson said. "It gives the kids some fun activities to do while they're reading. It's good to see they're enthusiastic about that."
Warnick emphasized the importance of parents being involved in their children's education, especially with reading.
"Everybody needs to learn to read," she said. "If parents have quit reading novels, the kids don't see it happening from their parents. So if parents will pick up a good book, their kids will pick up a good book."
Dawson said there are several benefits to parents who read with their children.
"First off, they know what their kids are reading," he said. "My two daughters and I try to read the same books. It gives us a way to connect and talk about things. One of the biggest reasons is to show them that it's critical to read."
On Tuesday, schools will determine the total number of minutes their students have spent reading. But regardless of whether the Jazz pay a visit to Shelley Elementary, Warnick was encouraging to her students.
"If we don't win the Jazz contest, you guys are winning because you're trying," she said to the eager group of fourth-graders. "You're putting an effort into your reading. And having fun is the most important."
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