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Leavenworth’s Xavier wins national reading award

Xavier School in Leavenworth was the top-placing small school in the Word Up Challenge. The students were honored at a January assembly to which students were encouraged to come dressed as their favorite book’s character. Pictured above are, from left, kindergartners Joseph King, Harrison Long and Alexi Nevins. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JOE MCSORLEY

by Jan Dixon

LEAVENWORTH — Xavier School students here read more than seven million words in three months and earned a highly selective national award for their efforts.

The Word Up Challenge contest, sponsored by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishing company, was designed to get students excited about reading.

“Anytime you can get students excited about reading is a win-win,” said Evie Porter, principal of the Leavenworth school. Xavier’s librarian and media specialist Cindy Thiele suggested the school enter the contest, and Porter agreed. The teachers jumped on board and encouraged students to read, read, read.

Every word each student read counted toward the school’s total. Points were tallied through the publishing company’s online reading program called Reading Counts!

“I was so impressed by my class’ effort during this challenge,” said teacher Janet Meyer. “One of the biggest obstacles I face is finding books at my students’ Lexile (or reading) level that are appropriate for a fourth-grade student.

“I have some fourth-graders reading at a high school level, and it is difficult to find books that challenge them, but still have content that is age appropriate.”

The Reading Counts! program has thousands of books at different levels for student selection. Students chose both fiction and nonfiction books that are on or above their current reading levels. They read, took tests, and logged their words.

“I personally liked the challenge because before it, I was just reading one series,” said fourth-grade student Ethan Shaffer. “I tried new books and really enjoyed them, thanks to the Word Up Challenge.”

Students exercised their independent reading skills and expanded their literacy skills. They read daily in the classroom, library and at home.

Lisa Forge, director of enrollment and marketing at Xavier, reported the students were really excited and motivated to read.

“The students quickly surpassed our first goal of one million words in just one month,” she said, “so we raised the goal to five million words and they surpassed it, too.”

At the end of the contest period, 109 students had read 7,115,842 words. That was enough to secure the top-place award in the small school category.

“The kids were really surprised when they learned we were one of only three winning schools in the nation,” said Forge.

Xavier was also named as a Most Valuable Player school in the challenge. To achieve this status, the school had to show creativity of effort to promote independent reading, evidence of effectiveness and inclusive outreach to all students.

Porter said that the school has scored above national norms in reading, more often than not. But this was the first time to win the Word Up MVP Challenge.

“This was great for our students and great for the world, because at Xavier . . . we are all in this together,” she said.

The students were honored at a January award assembly where a representative from the publisher presented a plaque and banner for the school, as well as $250 worth of books for the school library.

Two fourth-grade students received medals for having the highest word counts.

“I was so excited that I got second place in the Word Up Challenge. I love to read!” said fourth-grade student James Leintz.

Xavier has participated in Reading Counts! school-wide for several years. This was the first year the students participated in the Word Up Challenge.

“We were thrilled with the success of our students,” said Thiele. “We are excited to participate again next year!”

About the author

Jan Dixon

Jan Dixon grew up in Kansas City where she attended Catholic grade school and high school. After college graduation and marriage, she and Greg lived in Springfield, Missouri and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and finally settled in Olathe, KS where they raised three sons. Jan taught kindergarten through high school for 37 years before retiring. She and Greg are members of St. Paul in Olathe.

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