By Rebecca Talley
The Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) at my children’s elementary school is sponsoring a Read-a-Thon. The goal for the school is 120,000 minutes in two weeks. The goal for each of the older kids is 800 minutes. Kids receive medals each day at certain minute intervals of 100, 200, 400, 600 and 800. The medals resemble dog tags and the kids wear them on chains provided by the school.
The kids are excited. My older daughter has already read 800 minutes and we still have another week. My son, who started school this year, reads with me and on his own and has logged over 200 minutes. My other daughter has read almost 500 minutes. My three nieces have read a combined 2500 minutes. All of this reading is fabulous. We have a school filled with kids that are choosing to read. They’re talking about books. They're thinking about books. Most of all, they're reading books.
Today is Character Day. Each child comes dressed as a character in a book they’ve read. It’s wonderful to hear such buzz about books and reading.
Did I mention this is also a fundraiser? Ideally, each child is supposed to secure sponsors and earn money for the school. A lot of money. The more money, the better. Earning money while reading seems like the perfect idea because it’s a win-win situation. Almost.
Winners will receive prizes. The student who earns the most money wins a mountain bike. The next runner-up wins a telescope. The other runners-up win assorted prizes donated by local merchants. Sounds good, right? Kids are reading, winning prizes, and earning money for the school.
Now, here is the discrepancy, at least to me. The students who read more than 1000 minutes receive tickets for a drawing that includes a punch-pass to the local recreation center. Not a bike or a telescope and not even a guarantee to win the prize for the student who reads the most minutes, only tickets for a drawing.
Many of the kids have concluded that money is more important than reading and that money earned is better rewarded than the actual reading. (I would also note that the same kid wins the "most money earned" each year because his parents donate a lot of money).
Is this the message we want to send to our kids, that money is more important than reading?
Some of the kids have also pointed out that they can control how much time they spend reading. They can make the choice to read instead of watch TV or play video games. Isn’t that the kind of choice we’d like to encourage?
These same kids have also mentioned that they cannot control how much someone is willing to donate. The actual fundraising is out of their hands. They can only control how much time they spend reading, they can’t force people to pay money for it.
While the idea of a Read-a-Thon is great, I believe the execution is somewhat flawed. Last year a child read well over 2000 minutes. She was awarded a pass to the recreation center (worth about$30). The boy who raised the most money (his actual reading minutes were never disclosed) won an expensive mountain bike. Wrong message.
We should be encouraging our children to read for the simple joy of reading. I understand the PTO needs to raise funds. What the PTO doesn’t understand is that if the emphasis was placed on the actual reading, and raising funds was secondary, a lot more money would be raised because parents like me would be more supportive.
The ability to read is a gift we give our children. It should never be underestimated, nor undermined by anything else, not even a school fundraiser.