Scoring big: Columbus Christian School student readers aiming for ‘Final Four’

Even if the third-graders’ amazing academic and sports-like journey ends this weekend, Columbus Christian School Principal Angie Donnell wanted them to know Tuesday afternoon that they had already scored big.

In fact, because the 11 students had advanced to the Elite Eight of the state’s Read to the Final Four competition, they already earned $1,000 for the school library to buy books.

Donnell made the announcement of the prize over the school intercom. In the school hallway, one could hear cheers coming from a few rooms.

“We’re so happy for you, and so proud of you,” Donnell said in a lilting voice. “Keep on reading to the next step and the Final Four. Woohoo, you made it!”

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In the classroom of third grade teacher Laura Adams, student Samantha Kelly’s eyes grew nearly as big as basketballs when she heard the news.

However, she and her classmates are determined to log enough minutes reading books by Sunday evening to qualify for the competition’s Final Four — guaranteeing more prizes and success, including money for their classroom’s bookshelf.

Just the other day, the students logged about a half hour of classroom group reading on the book “Grizzly Bears.”

“I like reading mostly because I can learn a lot of facts,” Kelly said.

Fact is, Kelly and company have been learning the joy of reading at a young age — something that Adams, with a master’s degree in early childhood education, finds especially satisfying.

“I saw firsthand (in the past) that if a student missed the basics (of reading), they could really struggle later,” Adams said.

Read to the Final Four, inspired by NCAA basketball’s tournament this month, is a reading competition encouraging schools to log the most minutes reading and make the top 68 schools in the state — the same number of schools to make the NCAA tourney hosted soon in Indianapolis and surrounding areas. The academic program uses a digital literacy platform, powered by Renaissance myON, to provide access to books and track time spent reading.

The top 68 schools throughout Indiana were selected from a pool of more than 300 in late January for their previous reading commitment. They were picked during an official selection show to advance to the final bracket-style competition.

Teams advance based on the number of minutes read during each week, with the Final Four schools celebrated during the Final Four festivities April 3-5 in Indianapolis.

The competition focuses strong, sports-style attention on academic achievers. Former NCAA basketball stars appeared on the school selection show and spoke of the significance of solid reading skills as part of classroom fundamentals.

“That was really important for the students to see,” Adams said. “But the part I think that I love the most about this whole program is the fact that our whole school is excited about it. Really, the whole school has rallied around us.”

Third-grader Luke Edwards loves reading both for its adventure and practicality.

“Reading can help me find out all kinds of information about the things I need to know about, such as animals, and other things,” Edwards said.

He offered a basic theory and seemingly logical reasoning of why he and his peers will make it to the Final Four.

“So far, we’ve already made it through these other rounds,” he said matter-of-factly. “So I feel like we can win.”

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Columbus Christian School third-graders will find out by Monday morning if their time at school and at home reading books has qualified them for Read to the Final Four’s four top teams.

The software that the competition uses automatically logs students’ time, prevents speed-reading cheating, and also has built-in help if a student’s mind wanders and they spend too long on the same book page.