Last year, seventh grader Aryel Sealey read a whopping 48 books during the school year – more than any other student and surpassing the goal of Harlem Academy’s first 40 Book Challenge. “The challenge was a great motivator, and winning gave me a strong sense of accomplishment,” she says. Will Aryel keep her title this year?
Our second annual challenge is well under way, encouraging middle schoolers to read 40 books independently by the end of the school year. “At first, students think there is no way they can read an additional 40 books in a year, but once they find books they like, they want to read all the time,” says middle school English teacher Kia Turner, who coordinates the competition.
Although most students are eager to take on the challenge, participation is not mandatory and students have the option to set individual goals. “I want students to read at their own pace” explains Ms. Turner. “Not every student is going to hit 40 books, but I have students who have read 25 or 30 books. That amount would have seemed astronomical to them before the challenge.”
Sixth grader Ava Mason, who is taking the challenge for the first time, thinks the experience will benefit every student. “Reading so many books gives us the opportunity to learn about different authors’ perspectives – and to learn about ourselves, too.” Ava just finished reading “On the Come Up” by Angie Thomas, about an aspiring rap artist who uses her music to shed light on racial injustice. “This book taught me the importance of using my voice to stand up for what I believe in.”
Students aren’t the only ones reading up a storm. Eleven Harlem Academy teachers and staff have joined in the fun, too, filling the halls with colorful posters charting each book they’ve read. Ms. Turner notes, “I want the adults in our community to model excellent reading habits for our students.” Amelia Buchanan, who works in the development office, is up for the challenge: “It makes me more mindful of how I spend my free time,” she says. “When I’m not working, I’m reading!”
So is Aryel, who has already finished seven books since the challenge launched in September. “I hope I can make it to the top five again this year,” she says.