Students listen as rules are given for the potato sack races. PHOTO BY GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Students listen as rules are given for the potato sack races. PHOTO BY GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Chatfield Elementary students reached the school-wide goal of having 90 percent of the students at or above 800 steps by May 28. This milestone allowed the students to celebrate their accomplishments with a carnival held during the last week of school.

Elissa Johnsrud, the teacher in charge of the Action 100/100 Book Challenge program, said she was proud to witness the students hopping about in potato sacks and racing one another at the school carnival. There were sack races, bouncing balls to ride and an inflatable house to jump in. These activities and more were organized to reward the students who had spent the past nine months building their reading skills through the Action 100/100 Book Challenge program. The reading challenge encouraged students to read at least half an hour a day, receiving credit, or a "step" for each 15 minutes they read or were read to by their parents.

Johnsrud was proud to report, along with Chatfield Elementary School Principal Craig Ihrke, that the students had excelled in reading and certainly exceeded the 800 step mark by the end of the school year, proving that the new literacy initiative had been a wise choice for the school district.

"We averaged 905 steps, or 226.25 hours, per student for the school year. According to our Independent Reading Level Assessments (IRLA), the students, on average, have made 1.93 years of growth during this school year," Johnsrud said. "It seems they are much more confident in their abilities and knowledgeable of the reading standards and genres."

Participation in Action 100 has increased students' reading comprehension and confidence in other subjects as well. "Confidence levels have definitely increased, as well as the ability to write and speak about topics. These things definitely increase the comprehension of students," Johnsrud said. "They are much more aware of text features and how to use them to find information that isn't necessarily explicitly stated. When you know what you need to do to improve, it doesn't seem impossible."

She continued by explaining that traditional teaching calls for a particular lesson on a particular day. By differentiating instruction based on individual needs of students, the teachers are better able to meet the needs of learners.

"We set power goals with every student so they knew what they needed to work on to get to the next level," she added.

Furthermore, the program has assisted teachers in teaching students at a grade level basis, as books students read in school or are allowed to check out are coded to reading ability.

"Teaching at a grade level basis has always been difficult because the range in ability levels varies greatly from student to student," Johnsrud pointed out. "Having tools to individualize instruction to each student has helped our reading instruction tremendously."

The elementary staff has enjoyed watching students explore reading and what it can bring them, according to Johnsrud. "There have been many things. Students routinely approach me and let me know what step they are on, or how many more steps they need to reach the next level. I enjoyed seeing students get caught up in a particular series and devour them quickly."

The first year a new program is implemented always comes with challenges, but the work of overcoming those challenges benefits the students immensely.

"The biggest challenge we always face is finding the time to implement something. We really feel this will be of great benefit to the students, but it may be a year or two before we really see results across other curricular areas," Johnsrud added. "We focused more on reading this year and less on math, which may result in short-term reduction in math scores, but we are confident the increased reading skills will translate into better understanding of math and ultimately higher math scores as well."

The carnival held last Tuesday offered students a reward for their dedication to reaching goals throughout the school year - they powered up and bounced in the inflatable crayon castle, trotted across the gymnasium floor in potato sacks, ran races and played bingo.

"Hopefully, the biggest reward has been acquiring a love for reading and establishing a routine of reading every day," Johnsrud said. "In addition to that, students have earned medals, trading cards, magazine covers and the special days like the carnival and spring training day. It is always great to celebrate accomplishments with the school family."

She also added, "Just like home or your place of work, it is good to stop once in a while and take stock of what has been accomplished and reward yourself for the work that has been done."

Chatfield will continue to use Action 100 as a springboard toward greater literacy. "To be technical, Action 100/100 Book Challenge is not a curriculum. In the program, however, teachers focus on the common core standards and work with students at their individual level, while students practice reading independently in school and at home," Johnsrud explained. "We will be continuing Action 100 in preschool through sixth grade next year."

The program was piloted without major changes made to it, and the Chatfield teachers appreciated its tenets. "We pretty much stayed with the script this year and likely will continue to do so. We will likely infuse larger group mini lessons in addition to the individualized instruction the students received this year. There will be some reading instruction taking place in science classes and social studies classes as reading research-type projects."

The teacher is prepared to take on a second year of being on special assignment as reading coordinator, having seen what differences can be made when values are instilled through programs such as Action 100.

"As always, we look forward to a great school year in the fall. Action 100 begins in preschool, so it is exciting to have parents throughout the elementary participate," she added. "We are looking forward to jumping right in next year as teachers, students and parents all know the expectations and the goals of the program."

Not only will Chatfield use Action 100 next school year, it has an action plan for the summertime to avoid students losing whatever skills they have learned this year.

"We are working on preventing the 'summer slide.' Research suggests that a child who does not read over the summer regresses two months," Johnsrud shared. "Our students have worked so hard that we are implementing a summer reading program to help prevent this."

Every Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m., students can come and check out Action 100 books at the Chatfield High School. Johnsrud added that there will be weekly prizes from various businesses. Students who read 150 steps will receive a summer reading t-shirt, and the class that reads the most will receive a Chuck E. Cheese party in the fall.

Johnsrud and Ihrke commended students and parents as Johnsrud said, "I would like parents and students to know how proud I am of the efforts they made and the habits they have established. Becoming a good reader opens doors for people in many different areas and can expose them to interests and possibilities people may not have considered."

She concluded, "We appreciate the parental support and how parents set a routine with their child and help them achieve the 800-step goal this year. This year, more than ever, it has been a home-to-school partnership."