NEW PORT RICHEY — Students at New River Elementary School once again proved their prowess in page turning, answering the call in a big way for the international Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge, which took place from May 4 to Sept. 4.
For the second year in a row, the school's students in kindergarten through Grade 5 logged the highest number of reading minutes in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, earning 28th place in the world, according to the Scholastic website.
The New River students set a goal and nearly doubled it, collectively recording 1,315,714 minutes of reading time, principal Lynn Pabst said as she congratulated her students at a victory celebration Oct. 5 under the school's covered shelter. The celebration included an appearance by former linebacker and current director of pro scouting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Shelton Quarles, a double dose of recess for students and a pizza party later in the day for the school's top readers.
The summer reading program and the celebration got high marks from teachers such Colleen Gablenz. Each year, Gablenz, now in her ninth year of teaching, welcomes a new crop of kindergarten students who enter her classroom with a wide range of reading skills.
"It helps reinforce how important reading is, and it's great for them to be recognized for their achievements," Gablenz said.
Some students said they made commitments to read for an allotted time each day. Others made regular visits to the school media center, which was open to students throughout the summer, to check out books and take reading assessment tests through the school's Independent Reading Level Assessment Framework. And some eagerly delved into titles such as Athlete vs. Mathlete or Nerd Camp, listed in the 2015 Sunshine State Young Readers Program, or books from the popular Kingdom Keepers series.
"I really liked the challenges that were issued," said James Sanders, 11, who was a top reader along with his younger brother, Thomas, 6.
"I like that (reading) helps you know more words than you do," said Thomas, who counts the Magic Tree House adventure series among his favorite reads. "And it helps you with other things — like science."
Fatima Abukhaled, 7, said a house rule to read at least 30 minutes a day helped her reach her goal as the top reader in her grade, as did the My Weird School book series by Dan Gutman, which she finds difficult to put down.
Another winning reader, Brianna Aguay, 5, who is into books about puppies and Power Rangers, said she read at school and at home with her parents.
"They had the library open all summer long for reading and tutoring, which was great," said Brianna's mom, Jennette Aguay.
"My mom reads to me, and my dad, too," Brianna said, adding that her dad "sometimes reads to me in English and Spanish" because members of her family speak both languages.
Bradley Berman, 8, said he delved deep into the Kingdom Keeper series by Ridley Pearson because he likes adventure books, but also because the school plans to reward top readers with a special field trip.
"I get to go to the Magic Kingdom, and I've never been there before," Bradley said. "I love to read anyway, though. Basically, I just read all day long."
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Contact Michele Miller at email@example.com or (727) 869-6251. Follow @MicheleMiller52.