Fifth-graders at Rock Hall Elementary School are closing in on having read 5 million words since the start of the school year, as tracked by the program Reading Counts.
ROCK HALL — Tracking word counts and books, creating incentives and continually encouraging students is building a true love of reading at Rock Hall Elementary School.
As of last month, Rock Hall Elementary School fifth graders were quickly closing in on having read 5 million words, with 109 books completed, as reported through the Reading Counts program.
Reading Counts tracks students' progress, recording books students read independently and the number of words in them.
With 35 students total in fifth grade, the average word count per student so far this year is 140,313.
Add the earlier grades into the tally, and the entire word count for Rock Hall Elementary School sat last month at more than 5.2 million, with 495 books read.
"The students are reading daily as part of their instruction and during any unstructured time they have," said Principal Gillian Spero.
That unstructured time includes breakfast in the morning, coming in from recess and other breaks in between instructional periods.
"When they're eating breakfast, they're reading their books," Spero said. "These students are all about reading."
Spero said the staggering word count already achieved by this year's fifth graders means they will likely far exceed last year's totals for fifth grade.
Over the 2022-23 school year, the fifth-grade class at Rock Hall Elementary School read nearly 5.6 million words and 267 books — also quite an accomplishment in Spero's eyes.
Gregory Townsend from fifth grade said he likes the Reading Counts program because "when you read and take a test, it’s like a good and rewarding feeling in the end."
When it comes to reading instruction, fifth-grade students have 90 minutes a day of English language arts with teacher David Jachimowicz. That time includes reading as well as writing lessons.
For the earlier grades, that 90 minutes of English language arts is structured differently because the younger students are building their foundational reading skills.
Once students are in fifth grade and have those strong foundational skills, the world of reading really opens up to them.
It is at this point that they can pull any of the brightly colored books off the shelves in the well-stocked media center and reading benches lining the hallways and dive into those stories.
"They have a lot of options for books that they like," Spero said.
Over the summer, Spero took great care in selecting titles for restocking the bookshelves at the school. She tracked reading trends like students' love of graphic novels and book series.
"The Babysitters Club," "Goosebumps," "Dogman," "Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and the "I Survived" series, the latter being retold stories about disasters like the Galveston, Texas hurricane of 1900, are very popular, as are the "Harry Potter" novels.
"Those are the good ones, because they take a long time for students to read, but they get a lot of words from them," Spero said of the "Potter" series, which has volumes ranging from just over 200 pages to more than 700 pages.
She also is building up collections of children's classics like "The Witches" and "The BFG."
"I like that you don’t know what’s in the book at the end," said third-grader Josh Harris. "It might make you happy or it might make you sad.”
Spero thanked volunteers who came in over the summer to help reorganize the media center. She is also very excited about the work Coleen Trainer, the school's new media instructional assistant, has been doing with students.
"The library is completely accessible to students at all times," Spero said. "They know where the books that they like are and they know how to check them out."
Being able to select the books they want to read is a big motivator for students, Spero said.
Reading benches like the one seen here are found outside the doors of classrooms at Rock Hall Elementary School. The benches are stocked with titles and provide students a comfortable spot to enjoy some reading time.
Teachers are also helping by setting reading goals for students and creating incentives like movies, swimming pool trips and principal stunts for Spero to keep the momentum going.
Parents of fifth-graders are also hearing from Jachimowicz.
He is calling home to celebrate when a student meets a milestone and when they seem to be falling behind and need a little extra encouragement to get back on pace.
Spero said it helps too that Jachimowicz spent 2022-23 working with these same students as their fourth-grade teacher before shifting up to fifth grade this year.
Students understand that the reading incentives are helping them be successful in life.
"I like that I have improved my reading so that later when I grow up, if I want to be a doctor, I can read important papers," said fifth-grader Harley Manley.
The wide selection of books, the incentive programs and the staff-wide encouragement means all members of the diverse Rock Hall Elementary School student body are engaging with reading.
"Everyone is caring about reading right now," Spero said.
Some of the leading fifth-grade readers are: Jack Stumpf with 257,045 words all from one book alone; Connie Sweeney with 323,735 words; Taraji Wright with 196,323 words; Julia Roark with 300,121 words; and Makaya Rush with 187,862 words.
“When I am reading I don’t hear anyone talking to me. It’s quiet time that makes me feel good,” said third-grader Colby Huster.
For Spero, it all adds up to the millions of words read by the students at Rock Hall Elementary School and the fact that the fifth-graders will shift to Kent County Middle School next year ready for the secondary school level.
Spero said that a solid foundation in reading is also an important stepping stone to good writing.
"Arming students with the ability to read and access knowledge through texts is one of the most powerful tools we can give our young people," she said. "Second to that is the success and confidence that they build through knowing they have achieved their goals and accomplished success."