Kent City Elementary Schools to adopt reading initiative this fall

Darren D’Altorio

Incentive-based program rewards books to top readers

This upcoming fall, a challenge is being issued to Kent’s elementary schools. Students at each of Kent’s five elementary schools must attempt to collectively accumulate one million minutes of reading outside the classroom.

The program is called “Reading Millionaires,” a reading incentive project first implemented in a Georgia elementary school in 1995.

Joseph Giancola, superintendent of Kent City Schools, said the program is based on a reward system. Students will read recreationally, keeping track of their minutes in a log. Parents will sign off on the minutes. The schools keep track of the totals. Students in classrooms that accumulate the most minutes will be rewarded with books.

“The plan is for students to be reading more outside of school,” Giancola said. “More reading equals more success.”

Giancola collaborated with Kent Rotary International and Nancy Padak, professor of teaching, learning and curriculum studies at Kent State, to introduce this idea to the school district.

Giancola asked Padak to speak about literacy in the community at one of the Rotary’s meetings with the goal of partnering with the schools in some capacity.

Using $5,500 of grant money, Kent Rotary International will provide the books for the program.

“The Rotary sees the importance of developing partnerships,” Padak said. “They see how important education is to their organization.”

Padak said 20 percent of adults in the U.S. cannot read and write well enough to get by in everyday life. She said Reading Millionaires helps kids develop good reading habits at a young age.

“Reading achievement is due to how much kids read,” Padak said. “They must put their noses in books.”

Giancola said the program’s success would be measured when the next round of the Ohio Achievement Assessment is given to students.

“It would be nice to see incremental change,” he said. “Any change in student growth is worth being happy.”

Padak said she has seen the program work with great success, but it will take more than this to help students struggling with reading comprehension catch-up.

The Ohio Department of Education 2008-2009 report card for Kent City School District shows the district fluctuating around 10 percent above the state requirement of 75 percent in reading comprehension. The percentages steadily decline from 87 percent at the third grade level to 75.9 percent at the eighth grade level.

“There is a diverse group here in Kent,” Giancola said. “There are economically disadvantaged parents trying to keep up, but they don’t have the time and energy.

“Wherever there is economic need, it’s likely reading is at risk. Where there is economic disadvantage, there is academic disadvantage.”

Right now, the project is in a developmental stage.

Lori Slattery, director of instructional programming for Kent City Schools, said she is developing the reading logs and other forms parents and teachers will use during the program. She will be dispensing information to teachers, students and their families as details are finalized.

“This gives every kid the opportunity to own a book,” Slattery said. “The Rotary wants books in kids’ hands.”

Padak is confident of the effect this program will have on elementary students in Kent.

“I know this works,” she said. “I know the research. It’s based on principles that work, and it’s elegant in its simplicity.”

Giancola is looking at it from a research perspective.

“This is education research,” he said. “We don’t have experience with this, so I have no idea of the reality of achieving one million minutes. I don’t know if it is achievable.”

Contact public affairs reporter Darren D’Altorio at