Reading Challenge kids treated to Jaguars game

Kile Brewer
Posted 12/6/17

OAKLEAF – Sunday morning, Mary Pat Callihan stood in a parking lot filled with about 800 students from Clay County schools.

Callihan, the Orange Park Elementary School Media Specialist, was in …

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Reading Challenge kids treated to Jaguars game


OAKLEAF – Sunday morning, Mary Pat Callihan stood in a parking lot filled with about 800 students from Clay County schools.

Callihan, the Orange Park Elementary School Media Specialist, was in charge of getting every one of those children on a bus and to the Jacksonville Jaguars game as part of the team’s Honor Rows program, the second year Honor Rows has given tickets for Callihan’s month-long reading challenge.

“Last year we got 500 tickets,” Callihan said. “They were impressed with our program and this year they gave us 1,600.”

Callihan said when the program began eight years ago at her school, they received donated four-ticket packages that would go out to a couple of kids from each school who just went to the game with their families.

Last year she got involved with Honor Rows for the first time and realized that this is the route that her reading program should follow to allow the most kids the chance to see the game – the more tickets that are available, the more students see that they have a good chance at going to the game if they participate in the reading challenge.

The tickets were awarded to 1,600 children who participated in the reading program, and the more books they read, the more chances they had at being selected as one of the ticket winners. The chosen participants, all from grades 3-6, were split into two loading zones Sunday – one at Fleming Island High School and the one at Oakleaf High where Callihan was working.

After loading the busses and heading to the game, the students sat in the Honor Rows seats where they were shown on the live CBS broadcast during the game. Lunch was provided through the program, in addition to a T-shirt and other merchandise. Even the bus drivers got jerseys to wear for the day and lunch at the stadium, which Callihan noted as being extra special for the drivers, who have to give up their entire Sunday to make the trip to EverBank Field and back.

The reading program lasts 30 days and requires students to read books, fill out a questionnaire and submit a slip into a bucket at their school showing that they had finished a book and entered for a chance to win. The reader who tallied up the most books, and the reader who read the most total words were automatic winners, which helped fuel competition and kept the kids interested in striving not only to read books, but to read more than their classmates across the county.

“Not only do they have to read, but they have to show they are understanding the books, and that they are on their reading level,” Callihan said. “The children develop strategies to finish the most books and some only read big books to try and get the most words.”

The program has been massively successful, with kids at almost every Clay County school reading more than a million words, and some totaling 60-80 books over the course of the 30-day competition. This competitive atmosphere provides students with a platform that encourages them to succeed and achieve goal through incentivizes, such as the Jaguars game.

“I think for some of them, they don’t believe that they have the ability to do what they can do,” Callihan said. “It’s so good to see them coming in [the library] every day, read a book, take a test and by the end of the reading challenge they’ve read over 30 books.”


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