PORT RICHEY — School's out, but hitting the books is still on the agenda for many Fox Hollow Elementary students.
Some plan to curl up with a book while lounging at home or traveling on that summer road trip. Others are headed to the local library to check out a title on the Sunshine State Young Readers list, a literary lineup that has been released annually since 1983 for kids in grades 3-5 and 6-8.
Fox Hollow students had been asking for that list for weeks before classes ended, said principal Lisa Miller.
"It's the most popular list in the school," she said.
There's some good incentive for those who read all 15 titles.
Like all schools enrolled in the Sunshine State Young Readers program, students have the chance to vote for their favorite read or land a spot on a book battle team that competes on the school, district and state level.
But at Fox Hollow, students also have the opportunity to have their name permanently emblazoned on one of the gold stars recently painted on the school's Reader's Walk of Fame. That paved path leads to the school's Literacy Garden that was recently planted with brightly colored flowers and dedicated in memory of the school's beloved literacy coach, Shawna Masterson, who was killed in a car accident in February.
No doubt, many students would want to make Masterson — a very upbeat "always for the underdog" kind of teacher — proud, Miller said.
Add to that the end-of-year readers' gala for those who finish all 15 books, complete with balloons, tasty treats and an appearance of sorts by a children's author whose book made that year's list.
And there's a record to beat — or at least meet.
This past school year, 40 Fox Hollow students read all 15 books, earning a special certificate, a gold star and a chance to chat with Jacqueline Davis, author of The Lemonade War, via the Skype Internet communication program.
That's a big jump from the 15 students who finished all the books during the previous school year.
“It was a team effort," said fourth-grade teacher Aaron Locken, who, along with resource teacher Maria Smith, coordinated a before- and after-school student book club to help motivate students.
"The kids did all the reading at home. Then we had the book clubs at school," Locken said. "We had lots of good talks, not only about the books, but all sorts of things."
"It was cool," said Amanda Berrios, who ranked Found as her favorite. "You can actually talk to other people who read the book. Everybody shares what they like about the book."
"Last year I didn't read any books, but the book club inspired me," said Alexis Harris, 11. "Mr. Locken gave us a goal to read all 15 books. We got together and talked about the books. It was a fun experience. We set a goal and made it."
"It was the most wonderful thing, seeing all these kids coming down the sidewalk in the morning and talking about the book," said fifth-grade teacher Susan Jenkins. "All these literacy connections we wanted them to make, they were making."
While 40 students finished all 15 books, about 100 students participated in the book club on a regular basis, Smith said. "So a lot of these kids who are not readers by nature read six books, seven books, 12 books. That surpassed anything I could have imagined."
Even Damien Perez, who was ready to throw in the towel, managed to plug his way through all 15.
"I didn't think I was going to be able to finish," said Damien, 11. "But I just wanted to come here and get my name on a star."
Reach Michele Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (727) 869-6251.