By Melany Miller
Utah county elementary school students kick off their summer vacation with books still in hand.
Utah Valley Reads was held at the Utah Valley State College courtyard in Orem, May 30.
The event was sponsored by hospitals, businessmen and school districts from Utah County.
Gary Seastrand, assistant superintendent over elementary schools in south Alpine School District said the celebration was to honor schools that have read a lot of books for last year’s millennium book challenge.
Utah County schools were given the challenge to read a million books for the new millennium. The final book count for the county was 2,188,150.
“One thing that brings success to a program like this is children love to read naturally when they get a good book in front of them. Once the parents and communities catch that vision, it becomes successful,” Seastrand said.
Fifteen schools received $500 grand prize awards and 21 schools received $200 first prize awards for reading the most books per student.
Marilyn Kofford, head of the literacy committee for Healthy Utah Valley and president of the Alpine district board of education, said they had a large response from the parents and teachers in the community.
Cedar Valley Elementary, with just over 100 students, read over 400 books per child.
“We wondered how that could be possible, but when we visited their school, we saw the kids reading books while they were swinging on the playground,” Kofford said.
Cedar Valley didn’t have the resources to provide that many books, so teachers and parents had to haul books in from surrounding city libraries and bookmobiles.
According to Kofford, 60 percent of the second graders at Cedar Valley Elementary weren’t at reading grade level. By the end of the year testing, only three percent weren’t on grade level.
“It’s not just due to the million book readers, it’s a collaborative effort. But you can’t say this didn’t help,” Kofford said.
Mother Goose, Abe Lincoln and other book characters passed out free books to the children.
Annette VanWagenen, third grade teacher at Geneva Elementary, was dressed up as Ms. Frizzle from “Magic School Bus.”
“I can’t turn into a school bus, but I try to make reading exciting for the children,” VanWagenen said.
VanWagenen teaches at a high-risk elementary. She has her students write book reviews and provides large displays of books in her classroom to get her students excited about reading. She said the kids were always wanting to read the books she displayed.
“If teachers are excited about reading, they can spark the interest in the students,” VanWagenen said.
Orem resident Julie Gibb said her first grade son has been her “bookworm” this year. She said he can’t look at anything without reading.
Although Gibb said it’s most important for the parents to set the example and expose children to books, she believes that teachers need to find out what level the students are reading on and springboard from it.
Sixth grader Michelle Holdaway from Wilson Elementary in Orem said she enjoys reading because books take you places and you just get lost.
The event was sponsored by Scholastic, Media Play, Seagull Book and Tape, Deseret Book, and Covenant Communications.