6,333,482 minutes. That’s more than 12 years. It’s also the number of minutes that students at Jackson Elementary logged to win the 2013 Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge. The unprecedented final tally earned the McAllen, Texas, school a shout-out in the Scholastic Book of World Records (and a full year of bragging rights).

Jackson is a Title 1 school. Eighty-seven percent of its students are economically disadvantaged, and 53 percent have limited English proficiency. Still, nearly every student participated in the Summer Challenge. “Our students were better off at the end of the summer,” says Principal Sylvia Ibarra. “That’s the biggest reward.”

We asked the teachers at Jackson to share how they kept kids reading from May through September. Here are eight tips worth reading about.

1 | Start off with a bang. Jackson kicked off the Summer Challenge by inviting kids to wear their favorite pajamas, grab a ­pillow, and participate in a school-wide read-a-thon. The event was a hit. “Kids need to have fun while they’re reading,” notes fourth-grade teacher Sergio Martinez, who credits activities like the read-a-thon with motivating his reluctant readers.

2 | Lead by example. Throughout May, teachers built on growing excitement by conducting read-alouds of their favorite children’s books. “Just hearing books read aloud motivates students at any age,” says librarian Gloria Covarrubia. Plus, seeing teachers read encourages kids to do the same. “Let them see you reading in your spare time,” advises fifth-grade teacher Diane Alvarez. “Fifth graders will judge me more on what I do than on what I say.”

3 | Offer options. The team at Jackson provided students with access to three methods for recording minutes: an online portal, the Scholastic Reading Timer app, and reading logs sent home at the end of the school year and midsummer. That way, students without Internet connectivity could participate. Plus, in May, many teachers had students start using the timers to remind themselves to record their minutes.

4 | Aim high. The Jackson team set an ambitious reading goal: 4 million minutes. The team displayed that goal throughout the campus for inspiration. Covarrubia, who registered students under her account, then monitored their progress on a Reading Goal thermometer and shared those numbers with the community. “At the beginning of the contest, I would show the leaderboard on our [televised] morning announcements,” says Covarrubia. “After a couple of days, the students were the ones telling me how we were doing!”

5 | Partner with parents. In addition to parent–teacher conferences, teachers invited parents to join the cause with events like “Donuts With Dad,” during which parents read with their kids. “During the summer, if [kids] don’t have that constant reminder, reading gets left at the wayside,” says kindergarten ­teacher Rosa Ramos. In addition to making parents more aware of the challenge before school was out, Ramos and her colleagues mailed flyers and reached out by phone in June and July.

6 | Create custom book lists. Conventional wisdom says book choice goes a long way toward getting kids excited about reading. Instead of relying on standard reading lists, teachers at Jackson made targeted recommendations. “We created a list of books that a student might want to read or books that appealed to them,” says second-grade teacher Angela Salinas. Try including a Netflix-style “recommended for you” section in summer reading lists.

7 | Cheer on the competition. While students were still in school, the Jackson team held weekly competitions between classrooms. At the end of the week, the classrooms that racked up the highest number of minutes at each grade level were rewarded with extended recess. These mini-­competitions kept kids’ attention by providing shorter-term goals and promoting a sense of teamwork that carried into the summer.

8 | Stick together. Ultimately, teamwork proved key to Jackson’s victory. As team members read toward their goal, teachers recognized individual kids’ hard work with shout-outs in the morning announcements, milestone celebrations, and more. Teachers saw kids proudly reporting minutes to classmates and cheering one another on. “They collaborated,” says Salinas. “They felt like they did it together.”

So did the teachers. “We did it as a team,” third-grade teacher Bilma Paez proudly affirms. “Our administration was phenomenal. Our librarian was phenomenal. The support was there across the board.” Salinas adds, “The whole school was talking about the Summer Challenge.”


Sign-up for the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge here.


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Image: Pedro Garcia