The excitement has been building since September as St. James School students, staff and parents got ready for Ishmael’s “Spear-It” Reading Extravaganza which wound up with an evening gala last week.
“Everyone goes home with prizes and we all have a lot of fun,” said teacher Viviana Monaghan, who has been organizing the program for five years with school librarian Anne Kelly and teacher Lisa Johnson.
“We wanted an opportunity for as many students as possible from Grades 3 to 7 to take part in a reading program and we have about 90 per cent of our students involved. It brings all the arts together as there are a lot of challenges based on the books they read.”
The program starts with a theme each year, including classics, Canadian writers, biography and fiction in all categories. This year, the genres are mixed with selected books for students and adults in each category. The teams, made up of students, teachers, parents and grandparents, get points for how many books they read.
“The children really get excited. They try books from different reading levels and genres they might not try otherwise. I am excited when they come into the library and ask for more books,” said Kelly.
All readers are placed on teams with readers in different grades and adults, and get points for the number of books read. They have to read carefully because the other activities are based on remembering and understanding what has been read.
“The teams pick names that reflect the event, then decorate a table, make costumes, choose props and come up with a cheer. We have a potluck dinner, with parishioners invited and the teams bring some food that ties in with their theme for dessert,” said Monaghan.
There are lots of ways to add to the team’s score, with cleanup, music and general enthusiasm.
“We have alumni of the event, now in high school, come back to help because they remember enjoying it so much. The competition heats up when we start the questions which have students remembering details from the books,” said Kelly.
All the senses come into play. For some parts the team members are blindfolded and asked to feel, taste or smell something they have read about, then go back and try to describe it to the others.
Past puzzles from the books have included haggis, tripe, cabbage soup, gorilla turds (made of brownies) for the gross-out factor, and limoncello (for the adults). Team members are also asked to identify visual cues, such as a photo of a location in a book or auditory ones like the music associated with a character or book.
“The team with the most points gets first pick at the prize table but everyone goes home happy with a prize. We have fun shopping all year for prizes,” said Monaghan. “We also read and discuss books all year to make our choices for each year’s theme.”
Ishmael’s “Spear-It” Reading Extravaganza is funded by the Catholic Women’s League and the Parent Support Group with the books going to the teachers’ resource library for use in literary circles.
“Many parents don’t read as much they would like to and they welcome this opportunity to read books they might not read otherwise and to spend time reading with their children,” said Kelly.
The reading extravaganza was part of events for Catholic Schools Week Feb. 1 to 8, a province-wide initiative to celebrate Catholic education.