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Racine Reads

Wadewitz Elementary School kindergarten student Analisa Sanchez reads during a half-hour of quiet reading time in teacher Marianne Cooper's class on Wednesday, February 1, 2012. Students in her class count all the books they read in class and at home and report their totals to the Racine Reads Program. Local children have read 1 million books so far this school year, beating a goal to do so by May. The new Racine Reads program challenged kindergarten through fifth-grade students at public and private schools east of Interstate 94 to read 1 million books between October and May. / Scott Anderson scott.anderson@journaltimes.com Buy this Photo at jtreprints.com

RACINE — Local children have read 1 million books so far this school year, beating a goal to do so by May.

The new Racine Reads program challenged kindergarten through fifth-grade students at public and private schools east of Interstate 94 to read 1 million books between October and May. Wednesday students met that goal, reaching the 1 million mark about four months ahead of schedule, according to the Racine Reads online tracker.

“Did we ever think we would hit it by February? Absolutely not,” said Jane Barbian, Racine Unified’s elementary reading and language arts coordinator. “It has been amazing how many kids engaged in this and how many are enjoying doing the reading. They are just reading up a storm.”

More than 10,000 students in nearly 500 classrooms have participated in Racine Reads, according to SC Johnson, which is solely funding the reading program’s more than $200,000 cost. SC Johnson is a program organizer along with schools, the City of Racine, the Racine Public Library and others.

Racine Reads organizers were initially “frightened” by the 1 million goal and even considered not setting a numerical goal at all. In the end they went ahead with 1 million, hoping it would be achievable, Barbian said.

“When we first were talking about Racine Reads and what our goal should be, 1 million just seemed such an out-of-reach number. I think it averages 100 books per child,” she said. “At the kindergarten and first-grade level where they read picture books it might not be that many but when fourth- and fifth-graders are reading Harry Potter books that takes some time.”

But students managed to do it.

“I’m so inspired by the passion for reading that our community has shown,” SC Johnson Chairman and CEO Fisk Johnson said in a statement Wednesday. “What is so powerful and moving about this program is the personal investment and passion of the students and teachers.”

Students really got excited about recording the books they read and Unified teachers placed a bigger emphasis on silent reading during class time, Barbian said.

It’s helped students “develop reading habits that will positively impact their lives forever,” Racine Mayor John Dickert said in a statement Wednesday. “Our accomplishments as a community around this program make it possible to set Racine apart and serve as a model for literacy programs in other communities.”

Books read for Racine Reads are recorded online by teachers and Racine Public Library staff. Only library staff can see how many books each school and class had read, a safeguard to discourage fudging numbers to win Racine Reads prizes.

The prizes include pizza parties for classes that read 25 books per student, an iPad drawing for students in classes where everyone reads 150 books and a $100,000 library makeover for the school that reads the most books per child. Prize winners will be announced in May at a program celebration as planned, even though the goal was met early, said Robin Lapins, SC Johnson spokeswoman.

Books read will also continue to be counted until May, Lapins said.

Teachers will likely celebrate reaching the 1 million books goal in classes this week, some by reading books that mention 1 million of something, Barbian said.

Celebrations of the now-achieved goal, both in schools and also around the community, are well-deserved, according to Jessica MacPhail, Racine Public Library director.

“This is a culmination of weeks of planning, hundreds of hours of work,” she said. “I’m so proud of everybody who worked so hard behind the scenes to make this happen but I’ve got to take my hat off to these students.”

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