Bobcats reading

Seventh grade Benton bobcats read their books after a lesson about how to be an engaged reader. From left to right: Caleb Olson, Alison Harris, Yarelia Delgado, and Isabella Becker.

It comes as no surprise that reading benefits children and adults alike. Studies have proven this time and time again. Unfortunately, studies also indicate reading activity declines drastically as children grow up. “According to government studies (NCES, 2013), since 1984 the proportion of tweens and teens who read for pleasure once a week or more has dropped from 70% to 53% among 13-year-olds” (Common Sense Media). In order to combat this drop in reading volume, Benton teachers are finding fun, creative — even “sweet” — ways to pique student interest.

First-year Benton teacher, Ashley Phelan, wanted her students to start the year strong and build a love for reading that will follow them into adulthood. Miss Phelan reflected on where her passion for reading began, “As a middle schooler, my language arts teacher would help us set goals and find pleasure in reading. She would reward us with donuts and juice every quarter if we met our goal. As a kid, it felt so good to accomplish my goals and to celebrate with my peers.” Miss Phelan continues this tradition with her own students. Each seventh-grade student set a goal to read one thousand pages within the first quarter of the school year, which ends in October. Initially the task seemed daunting, but the appeal of student choice made their goal all the more enticing. After selecting a book from the school library or one of the abundant classroom libraries, most students were well on their way to one thousand pages. Seventh grader, Isabella Becker, admits, “At first I didn’t like reading, but as I read more I enjoyed it more. I have started to find books I like a lot and like the amount of time we get to read.”

As a reward for their dedication to reading and reaching their goal, each student will receive a donut from Shelly’s Sweets in Newhall. Owner Michelle Dengler is all-in to help, “I think it’s very important that the kids read. We always read with our kids and we think it has a great impact. We always want to support the school as well.” Both the staff and community firmly supports the success of the students and works hard to help them reach their full potential.

The Benton school district has made reading a priority for all students. A district-wide goal of one year’s growth in literacy for every student sets the bar high, and students and teachers are eager to reach it. A new initiative, started in the fall of 2019, has created an increased exposure to reading skills and adds time to the academic day for pleasure reading. Built into the midday homeroom period, students alternate between lessons in reading skills and leisure time for reading books of their choosing. Heather Mayrose, middle school language arts teacher, says, “This block of time each day has done wonders for our creating a reading culture in the middle school. Every student has a book to read, and they are building a reading habit. It’s also been advantageous to have teachers from all subject areas helping with these lessons and modeling good reading practices for kids. Students need to see adults — other than their language arts teachers — reading. It’s so good for them to see reading as a part of life, rather than just a part of a class.”

It is abundantly clear that the Benton Bobcats are working hard to achieve their district goal. The staff hopes to see the students ‘Go nuts’ for reading and continue to always have a book in their hands. And maybe a donut, too.