By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item
LEWISBURG — Twenty-one Kelly Elementary School third-graders made their mark Wednesday, putting their index fingers and thumbs into fresh paint on Kelly Township’s bison figure for the Union County bicentennial celebration.
What earned them their fingerpainting rights is remarkable: They won a “Book the Bison” challenge for literacy in which all 160 Kelly third-graders took on additional reading in September, totaling 102,000 extra minutes of reading.
That equals 71 days.
“Awesome!” a Kelly third-grader said as the pupils eyed their prize, the township buffalo with a blue-painted mane on which they would leave their mark. Food Services Director Justin Betzer, who headed the bison project at RiverWoods, drew long lines of fresh, light-blue paint down the mane for each child to dot with their fingers, which 8-year-old Thomas Hess thought was fantastic.
“We got to use our fingers. That was really fun,” he said, noting a book from the “39 Clues” series was among his favorite extra reads.
Kelly Elementary saw the offer to paint the bison as an opportunity to boost third-grade reading, Principal Chris Ruhl said, “so we came up with this competition among the eight third-grade classrooms: have students keep a reading log each night, then track weekly the total minutes each student spent reading.”
Third-grade reading is crucial, according to The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a collaborative of schools and education organizations; 74 percent of students who fail to read proficiently by the end of third grade falter in later grades and often drop out before earning a high school diploma.
“We wanted to get struggling readers to whom it doesn’t come easy involved, too, and thought this would give everyone focus,” Ruhl said.
By logging extra reading minutes, it didn’t matter how fast or slow the children were reading or even the quantity of books — just that they were reading.
Pretty soon, those numbers really began to climb, Ruhl said. The challenge excited the students, teachers told Ruhl, and the momentum stayed all month.
“We were really blown away by the numbers,” Ruhl said.
In the end, Megan Germ’s classroom emerged victorious. The room erupted with excitement when the children saw their bison-painting prize and also got to play games with RiverWoods residents. They, too, lent their fingerprints to the bison.
“Any time we can get kids involved, we like to, especially if it will include residents,” said John McDonough, RiverWoods’ director of census development, who added that Kelly Township Supervisor Elvin Stoltzfus brought the bison to RiverWoods to plan, design and paint with a unique theme.