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WE Collaborate: 500 Book Challenge

One of the most important indicators of student success in school is captured by one simple question: Do they read? Research shows the number one activity that helps children learn to read is having books read to them. The more books they "read" before first grade, the more successful they are in learning to read.

This is why William Walker Elementary started its "500 Book Challenge." "We knew that many of our kindergarten students had not had that exposure to books," says William Walker Principal Joann Hulquist.

Hulquist approached a friend and former principal, Linda Hall, about the challenge. "We had this great idea, we just didn't know how to get it rolling," says Hulquist. Hall came on board to coordinate the program, meeting with kindergarten teachers and the school-wide volunteer coordinator. The group approached Sunset Presbyterian Church about providing a volunteer base.

"It was such a popular program," says Hall. "What could be more fun than sitting down and reading with a five-year-old." This year the program has about 50 volunteers who read to kids one-on-one or in small groups.

Most of the volunteers from Sunset Presbyterian Church are retirees. "Many of them have said that the program was giving back to them, as much as they were giving to it," says Hulquist. The enthusiasm for the program doesn't just rest with the volunteers. The 500 Book Challenge has spread the joy of reading among the students and is invigorating for the teachers as well. "They just rave about the connection with the volunteers," says Hulquist.

Additionally, the program has helped teachers identify student who may have more than just a lack of access and opportunity for reading, allowing them to fine tune instruction for those students. The program has built self-advocacy and esteem in the students, who now have another adult or adults that they connect with. "They want to share their progress," says Hulquist. "All the kids look forward to reading time."