Friday, March 30, 2012

98,707 Pages: Community Proud!

This week's guest blogger is Lydia Hurst, dedicated community volunteer and a champion of county-wide connections and events such as Batttle of the Books, a fantastic annual event where kids from across the county gather in the same room for an afternoon of friendly (and serious!) competition. We are thankful for Lydia, librarians, teachers and parents who work so hard to make these kinds of things happen. ~MMB

There have been many moments when I find myself loving our amazing little corner of this wonderful world and when I think of it, I am positively ‘Community Proud.’ Last Friday, I had the privilege of helping a fantastic group of volunteers as we prepared and facilitated the county wide competition of 4th – 6th graders in the 6th Annual Battle of the Books at the Tarkio Resource Center. This is one of my favorite annual events in Atchison County and for those of you who do not know about it, I will give you a quick synopsis. For the rest of you that do know, you may skip a little in your reading.

The Battle of the Books began 6 years ago, inspired by a similar competition in Omaha. This was a time in our nation when schools were finding themselves even more accountable to ensure that each child enrolled was getting the education he or she needed. State testing was a “buzz word,” whether you liked it or not. During this time, a core group of old school educators, parents, and grandparents agreed with research data that showed the need for children to simply read more books. Opportunities at home and outside the classroom fought for the attention of our schoolchildren, such as video games, competitive sports practice, TV, computers. While children have always had distractions (or found them), many were home alone or were spending an enormous amount of time in the car being driven to and from activities. Somehow the focus had to get back to reading. Picking up a book and challenging yourself to finish that book and the sense of accomplishment from completing it on your own seemed to be lost for many young people. How do you get that back? The answer is not to sit and complain; the answer is to get involved. By being involved the rewards are endless but ‘Community Proud’ is one that I usually feel.

During the meetings to develop this idea, it became evident that we would need sponsors. We wanted to be able to reward and entice the children to go above and beyond the classroom to participate in this event. The future is so bright for them if they strive to do their best and are dedicated with determination to set aside time to read to ultimately better their reading levels. Northwest Missouri State University coach, Mel Tjeerdsma, believed so firmly in the goals of this group, he donated signed footballs each year and the coaches after him followed this path. Atchison County Development Corporation strongly endorsed this project to encourage our children to learn, prosper, and achieve success now and in their future. This act verified to the children that not only do teachers and parents want them to set and achieve academic goals but coaches, businesses, and random volunteers care deeply also. The Battle of the Books would not be possible without our sponsors and we greatly appreciate those who year in and year out believe this is worthy of their support. We are so fortunate to live in a county that deeply believes and cares about the lives of future generations.

A group of people gathered together and decided to incorporate the Omaha model into Atchison County as an opportunity to promote reading for our youth. At this time, it was decided to use the Mark Twain Award Nominees that are picked annually in our state by the Missouri Association of School Librarians. Soon after, we solicited the support of our three school librarians, teachers, and administration. ‘Community Proud,’ once again. We are so fortunate to have great schools in our county that are filled with professionals who DO all they can to help in any way and with a smile on their face. Needless to say, the schools have been over the top in helping and have been our cheerleaders to keep the children motivated each and every year. To live in an area where you do not have to ask but instead have an abundance of volunteers is indeed a blessing.

We have teams of no more than four participants who then pick a name which varies greatly, from “The Twains” to “Fluffy Readers” to “Reading Masters” and the unity of the team begins. We have seen different strategies utilized through the years to try to pull out a Champion Team. For instance, some teams ‘split the books evenly,’ some ‘read them all twice,’ some ‘read and take notes,’ some ‘just keep reading!’ All seem to have their advantages and have worked one year or another! Some get very nervous, some thoughtfully consider each response, and occasionally you have such excitement build that one may blurt out an answer and then realize they did not even consult with their fellow teammates!

No matter what- it is a joy to watch and once again, I always find myself…..yes, ‘Community Proud!’ Why, you may ask? This question seems simple but I must say there are MULTIPLE reasons. For one, I am so proud of the students who have taken LOTS of time to prepare for this spring afternoon. It quickly becomes evident when we ask each participant to please mark the books (out of 13 this year) they read and, if they read each book more than once, how many times. Can you believe that we had 35 children read over 1,000 pages just for this competition? Hold on, it gets better…each year the total amount of pages read has grown and this year 52 participants read a total of 98,707 PAGES!!! Now, you know why I am ‘community proud!’

The entire reason the competition is held is to help children fall in love with reading, increase their vocabulary, educate them on a variety of topics, familiarize themselves with authors, have fun, and push themsevles to reach higher learning levels in all subjects. We all know that most learning begins with reading and comprehending. It is a wonderful moment to see a building full of county children who are proud of learning and are ready to compete in the Battle of the Books. Kurt Sloop, Tarkio Art teacher, was kind enough many years ago to illustrate our logo with our very own Mark Twain look alike. Twain is refereeing two books boxing it out. We have so enjoyed the artwork through the years. Many students come dressed with t-shirts in various colors with the now county famous logo. Community Proud.

The competition this year was clearly competitive and definitely did not disappoint those in attendance looking forward to the annual Battle. Three teams did not miss ANY questions over the 13 books and four teams only missed one question. Before we could go to the championship round, we needed a fourth team. So we had a tie breaker round between the 4 teams that had missed only one question. The championship was 10 rounds of questions- ‘Big Book Theory’ came in first not missing any, ‘The Bookettes’ were second with one miss, ‘Reading Masters’ were third with 2 misses, and ‘Readables’ had 3 misses. The afternoon was wonderful, the crowd cheered, the children pushed hard to the end, and our community was united with volunteers everywhere and prideful smiles that will last a lifetime. Thank you, Atchison County. I am Community Proud.

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