Racine Reads celebration

Students from Wadewitz Elementary School celebrate winning a $100,000 library makeover Thursday morning, May 10, 2012, during the Racine Reads: Dream Big! celebration at Memorial Hall. The school read more books per student than any other area school in the program. More than 10,000 elementary school students in more than 500 public, private and parochial classrooms took part in the program read 1.8 million books. / Gregory Shaver gregory.shaver@journaltimes.com/ Buy this photo at jtreprints.com

RACINE - Wadewitz Elementary School has won a $100,000 library makeover for reading more books per student than any other school in the Racine Reads program.

Racine Reads, new this school year, challenged kindergarten through fifth-grade students at public and private schools east of Interstate 94 to read 1 million books between the start of the school year and May. Program organizers promised a library makeover to the school that read the most per student.

Thursday it was announced that Racine students collectively read 1.8 million books and that not one, but three schools will get library makeovers.

Wadewitz won the grand prize $100,000 library makeover for having the school’s 665 participating students read a total of 422,759 books, about 636 per student, according to program organizers.

“I just kept on believing in myself that I could read as many books as I wanted to,” said Wadewitz third-grader Alexandria Hernandez, 9.

She read 59 books and first-grader Ricardo Ramirez read 40.

“I never stopped reading,” said Ricardo, 7. “Now we’ll have new stuff in the library. It’s going to look different.”

Students at Mount Pleasant Renaissance School, 6150 Taylor Ave., read the second-most books per student and won a $25,000 library makeover, as did third-place finisher Trinity Lutheran School, 2035 Geneva St.

“Because the students and faculty at these three schools have done such a great job and the students have exceeded the goal by so much, we wanted to do something special to recognize everyone’s hard work,” explained Fisk Johnson, chairman and CEO of SC Johnson, one of the Racine Reads organizers along with the City of Racine, the Racine Public Library and others. SC Johnson is solely funding the program’s about $250,000 cost.

Johnson announced the extra library makeovers as well as other Racine Reads prizes during an awards ceremony Thursday morning at Memorial Hall, 72 Seventh St.

“I remember when we kicked off this program thinking how hard it would be to hit that number,” Fisk told the hundreds of students and teachers at the awards ceremony. “But that’s why I love this city so much. If we have a collective goal and we put our minds to it, we accomplish it.”

Students tracked books they read alone or with parents and teachers entered those books plus ones read in class into an online database; one book read aloud to a class of 30 students qualified as 30 books read, according to Racine Reads instructions.

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Books read at community events were also tracked and entered by Racine Public Library staff. Only library staff could see how many books each school and class had read, a safeguard to discourage fudging numbers to win Racine Reads prizes.

Aside from the library makeovers, prizes included 20 iPad 3’s, 21 Amazon Kindle Fire’s and 44 $50 or $25 bookstore gift cards for top-reading classrooms, according to SC Johnson.

A total of 10,008 students in 461 classrooms at 36 schools participated in Racine Reads, according to SC Johnson.

Program officials are not yet sure if Racine Reads will continue next year, said SC Johnson spokeswoman Jam Stewart.

Wadewitz’s library

But they are sure that Wadewitz, 2700 Yout St., will have an updated library when school starts next fall, said Chad Chapin, the school’s principal.

The $100,000 makeover will mean carpet that’s not duct taped, walls that are freshly painted, tables and chairs that match, a separate computer lab area and possibly more books, Chapin said.

His school was able to read the most books per student because of a literacy initiative started a year ago, before Racine Reads was even announced, he said.

“Our kids were not where they needed to be,” Chapin said. “We asked our teachers how often their kids read. It was interesting to find out that if some read 5 to 10 minutes a day, they were lucky.”

So Wadewitz staff got literacy training, started selecting books based on students’ interests, made students read independently for 30 minutes a day and put small libraries in each classroom, Chapin said.

Preliminary reading evaluations show students have gotten better, he said, especially in kindergarten, first grade and second grade. Plus soon they’ll have an updated library to show for their efforts.

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