Synonymous with her passion for reading is Sharanya Shankar’s Accelerated Reader point total, a number that neatly summarizes her year-long reading frenzy.
Her point total, three times that requested of a second grader, will surely grow in the coming months because of Shankar’s fondness for the Dance Fairies collection set by Daisy Meadows.
“When I read I feel like I am in the story,” Shankar, 6, a Washington Elementary student, said.
Shankar is one of the many children who regularly attend Family Literacy Night at Washington Elementary, an after-school event that starts at 4:30 p.m. each Thursday.
A standing-room only crowd of young readers and their parents pack the library on a Thursday afternoon, an opportunity for parents and children to come together and boost or reinforce reading skills and take advantage of skill-reinforcement software programs like Accelerated Reader.
In one room full of books, children and parents sit and read together, safely removed from the distractions of the home so reading can be the sole focus for a few hours every week. In an adjacent room, children like Shankar sit before one of the 37 available Mac computers to test their knowledge using programs like Accelerated Reader, a database of quizzes that test children on their recent reading.
“(Accelerated Reader) gives them accountability because teachers used to say write a list of books, but you never knew if they read them,” Washington Elementary teacher and program coordinator Carol Gilkinson said. “Or if they understood them, but (with Accelerated Reader) you have accountability.”
For every book Shankar reads at Washington Elementary, she can punch in a book code that will allow her to access a short quiz. With each passed test, she accrues points. Shankar currently has 310 AR points, a source of pride that quantifies and propels her reading achievement. Students in second grade are recommended to have 85 points.
More importantly, “it has other benefits beyond reading,” her father Shankar Gounder said. “If you just read it, your perception of comprehending things increases. That helps her in her math or any other program. If you have a word problem, which includes sentences, then she understands it and she knows…. It has helped in other ways.
A second grader, she is doing math at a third grade level. When she was in kindergarten, Shankar collected 320 AR points, a skilled child that was allowed to skip the first grade. The voluntary program recommends a kindergarten student collect 55 points. Each year the point total is gradually increased. By sixth grade, students are asked to collect 145 points.
The Family Literacy Program, open to children and parents nearly year round, will soon be implemented at Washington Elementary, Charter Oak assistant superintendent of educational service Jeanine Robertson said.
Gaby Zimmer, a mom of a second grade and fifth grade student, said she and her husband alternate taking their children to Family Literacy Night each week.
“I am trying to help this one out a little bit more,” said Zimmer, referencing her son. “We bring him to make sure we have that time one-on-one. At home, there is so much distraction. There’s the TV, the refrigerator, balls; here you’re focused on the books and the library.”
Books in the Washington Elementary library are separated into grade-recommended reading levels, the classic Charlotte’s Web deemed fourth grade reading level material. The Chronicles of Narnia is categorized as a fifth-grade level book. At a recent Barnes and Noble fundraiser, the library netted $1,100, ensuring some new books for avid readers.
“Standing room only sometimes – I feel sometimes like at a restaurant saying, ‘Wait a minute, there will be an empty computer over there,’” said Gilkinson, about the flurry of children moving about.
For Shankar, she has finished reading the Junie. B. Jones series, the Magic Tree House collection, My Weird School books, and Rainbow Magic Book series. In a small stack beside her computer, there are the books, Lucy Rose: Here’s the Thing About Me by Katy Kelly and Bethany the Ballet Fairy by Daisy Meadows.
“Even when its late at night she will say I will finish this and then I will go to sleep,” Gounder, Shankar’s father said.
For Robertson, a former Washington Elementary School teacher and principal, the program is signficant because of the emphasis on child and parent bonding beginning at a young age.
“The Washington Family literacy program is a very effective way to involve parents in their children’s learning,” Robertson said. “It begins doing that at the kindergarten level where parents and children are reading together, working together, and enjoying it. There is community building, there’s reading being improved.”