Students compete in read-a-thon |

Students compete in read-a-thon

St. Theresa School students who read more than 2,000 pages each in the school's read-a-thon are, from left, Hunter Turney, Bailey Conant and Grace Rosburg.

Nothing could stop St. Theresa students from reading above and beyond their regular reading assignments two weeks prior to Easter vacation. Although their motivations for doing so were not necessarily the same, their efforts supported a common goal for the school.

Reading specialist Kelley Welykholowa (Ms. Welly) spent the past two months organizing a read-a-thon, with the goal to raise enough money to support the school’s reading program by purchasing a comprehensive leveled reading library for all students.

“Some people had doubts about how motivated students would be and how much they would try to raise. But, I am an optimist. All it takes is someone telling me it can’t be done and I tell them I’m going to give it a try. ‘Can’t’ is not a word I let my students use in their vocabulary,” she said.

Welykholowa should know about motivating students. Before coming to St. Theresa School she worked for Alpine County School District, teaching extended-day kindergarten and first-grade reading. Rather than just accepting the challenges there she tackled them head on, earning the respect not only of her students, parents and colleagues, but also recognition from the state of California. She received the California Kindergarten Association’s Teacher’s Award of Excellence for her success with her students in reading and was selected to be on the California Kindergarten Association’s board of directors. Now a part time reading specialist at St. Theresa, she is enjoying more success there and loving the job.

“The staff truly cares about the students and being that we are small I am able to not only give but also get feedback from teachers and parents on a regular basis. This is why I wanted to work here. It reminds me of my old school in Alpine County. You can really make a noticeable difference,” Welykholowa said.

In order to motive students for the read-a-thon she embraced the community.

“She worked numerous hours beyond her normal schedule getting prizes and donations from local business,” said Diane Yarrow, school secretary. “Without her hard work and dedication there is no way this program would have been successful.”

Welykholowa, who credits the community, said, “I am so thankful and grateful for their support with our fundraiser. Without them this read-a-thon would not have been possible.”

Third-grade teacher Jen Seely helped organize the prizes and prepare the packets. A Wall of Fame was posted within the school, showcasing potential prizes and offering a wild card raffle for students not making the top five in their class. Students were drawn to the wall, looking at the items.

“You mean that all we have to do is read and we get stuff,” asked seventh-grader Ashle Meyer, when the read-a-thon was explained to her class. “That’s easy,” she said.

Ashle ended up topping her class for the number of pages read, with 2,061. But, the highest honor at the school belonged to third-grader Grace Rosburg. Extremely inspired, she read 2, 954 pages in the two-week period. For Grace the reading served a double purpose as it improved her speech. Her mother made her read many of the books out loud.

“The speech teacher asked me what we’d been doing differently with her the past two weeks and I explained how Grace had been reading like crazy for the school read-a-thon,” Charlotte Rosburg said. “It has been very exciting to see her progress in this area and watch her gain confidence.”

For Welykholowa stories like these are the ones that make her feel the read-a-thon was a success. Even the preschool participated, with parents counting the pages they read to their child.

“Reading to your child is the number one indicator for success in learning to read,” Welykholowa said. “You just can’t do it enough.”

For some parents how much they read to their child came as a surprise.

“I never knew how much we read to her until we had to actually write it down,” said Elizabeth Babbit, a preschool parent.

Other parents also expressed surprise with their child’s efforts.

“She kept reading at the dinner table and I had to tell her to put it away,” said Kelly Shanahan. “I couldn’t believe how many page she read. I was in shock.”

As far as the read-a-thon’s financial success, students worked hard to obtain pledges for their effort. Donors gave either a flat fee or an amount per page read. The school’s initial goal was reached.

“When Kelley came to me with this idea I embraced it whole-heartedly,” said principal Danette Winslow. ” As a former third-grade teacher I always put a strong emphasis on reading. I am thrilled with the motivation our students exhibited toward the read-a-thon and I am touched by the generosity of those who contributed. Plans are now under way for supplementing a leveled reading library for students.”

“We still have a little way to go financially,” Welykholowa said, “But, we are on the right track and can now begin adding to our reading program. I can’t wait to get started.”

Knowing Welykholowa, she won’t wait very long.

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