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Districts use ESSER funds for reading contest

Districts use ESSER funds for reading contest

Students from the Wiley School District won the first-ever Battle of the Books.

Students from the Wiley School District won the first-ever Battle of the Books.

Reading isn’t usually considered a competitive sport, but elementary school students in three southeast Colorado school districts waged a pitched Battle of the Books with the help of an ESSER Rural Program Development Grant.

Students from Wiley, Rocky Ford and Cheraw school districts recently squared off in a quiz-show-style contest, quarterbacked by Santa Fe Trail Board of Cooperative Education Services Assistant Director Natalie Brown.

Santa Fe Trail BOCES, Wiley and Cheraw each received a $3,000 award from the grant program, which seeks to re-engage students after their pandemic-forced timeout from the classroom. 

Santa Fe BOCES – which provides educational services to seven school districts – had already been awarded money to address math. When it came to reading, Brown said, “We decided that it needed to be something that was new, something that we had not tried before.”

And that proved to be the Battle of the Books – an age-old competition between school districts in which students compete against each other using their understanding of selected books. 

Brown was familiar with the game, having used it in other districts. When she floated the idea to the school districts, the response was incredibly positive.

“I can tell you about these little, small school districts, one of the things that cracks me up is the competition is huge,” she said. “They love competing against each other.”

They loved the idea of something that would get their kids reading again, and not only reading but reading for a purpose. Students would compete within their own districts, and then move on to compete regionally.

All three districts that signed up are small, with Wiley having one school and 262 students, Cheraw with one school and 224 students and Rocky Ford with three schools and 676 students.

In all, 141 students participated from the three districts. Teams were given 36 books to read, though not everyone on each team had to read each book. They then faced off against each other in a quiz show format. The questions started with “In which book” and the correct answer is the title and author of the referenced book. 

In all, 288 books were purchased with others coming in on loans from libraries.

The titles ranged from Beverly Cleary’s “Ralph S. Mouse” for readers 8 to 12 to the first in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, written for 13- to 18-year-olds, even though the competitors were in third, fourth and fifth grades.

Brown said they were pushing the students to read books above their grade level. “I’m going to give you some hard books, but I believe in you.” she told students. “I believe that you can read these books.”

The Wiley team teacher, Shae Krentz, told her third-to-fifth-grade students that if they knew “you're going to be working with someone, try not to read the same books. Try to read different ones. And get to know the basic premises. What it’s about. Where it’s set. Background of the characters, you know, just those basics and then they read in-depth and still try to smooth it out amongst the team members.”

Krentz explained that this approach “allows those kids that have a really good memory but maybe struggle with reading, to be able to still contribute to the team.” Having been a junior and senior high cheerleading coach for 19 years, she appreciates the value of teamwork.

Mara Romero, dean of students/gifted and talented coordinator for the Jefferson Intermediate School in Rocky Ford, took a different approach.

“I ended up with about 24 kids total that participated, and they read six or seven books apiece.

Then I would have them just write a summary of that book,” Romero said. “I rewarded them every time they completed a book. They were able to get a prize, which was a full-size candy bar.”

So, how does Battle of the Books work? Imagine teams at their tables. Each team gets the opportunity to answer a question. Wrong Answer? Another team can buzz in for a steal! And if the team steals and they get it right, they get the points. If they get it wrong, the question basically becomes dead. And then you proceed on to the next question.

The winning teams, with a total of 19 contestants, proceeded through districts to regionals, which was held at Otero College. More than 100 were in the audience, people the contestants knew, some they didn’t, all oohing and ahhing at correct answers. Cheering and clapping as if they were at a Nuggets game.

In the end, Wiley prevailed, claiming the trophy that will travel from winner to winner in future years. The team also got a jar of cookies. Actually, all the teams got jars of cookies.

There was so much enthusiasm generated by Battle of the Books, the districts have said that even without ESSER funds, they will find ways to finance another competition. "Even the district superintendents were excited. At a superintendents’ meeting they were, I don’t know how to say this, they were talking smack about how well their kids were going to do,” Brown said.