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Reading Moms Set To Retire

INDEPENDENCE -- Every first week of November, students at Independence Elementary School develop an addiction that can only be satisfied by poring through a book.

INDEPENDENCE -- Every first week of November, students at Independence Elementary School develop an addiction that can only be satisfied by poring through a book.

For the mothers who have coordinated the school's annual read-a-thon, the best stories are the ones they collect from the participating students.

Marilyn Morton, a coordinator of the popular literacy program, said she remembers seeing one student three years after she had graduated from IES while attending a play.

"She had a book on her lap ... she would pick it up and read every time the (theater) lights came on," she said.

The read-a-thon has been an IES tradition for the past 21 years, intent on making readers out of children by offering modest rewards and a sense of friendly competition.

Morton, Joy Hoffman and Liane Moser -- all of whom had children attended IES at one point or another -- have been involved since its creation. And they've been at the helm of the program since 1992, when it became volunteer-driven.

But the original "Moms-4-Reading" as they've come to be known will call it quits with this year's edition, which kicked off Wednesday, Nov. 3.

Hoffman said they had made a pact years ago that they would hang it up when all of their children graduated from IES.

"And our youngest mom's (Kristy Vandercreek's) youngest kid is a fifth-grader this year," she said. "When he's done, we're done."

For the uninitiated, IES's read-a-thon is a literacy initiative that entices children to read by awarding school "cash" redeemable for prizes in a school store for pages or minutes spent hitting the books during a five-month period.

There are also reading competitions between classes and even with staff members.

Katie Riordan, a teacher and the school's reading specialist, said the program has been a major boost to classrooms in that it provides valuable outside-of-school reading practice and entices children to read who might not otherwise.

"It's hard to fathom the school without it," she said. "That they read at home is huge."

It's also been a confidence booster to low-income children by giving them a way to earn their own school supplies.

"A lot of times, families don't have the funds to buy things like pencils and scissors and the school can't afford to supply them," Morton said.

The program was created by an IES teacher in 1989. When the school could no longer dedicate time or staff to running it, the moms were invited to take over.

Since then, they've gotten other parents involved and invited local and fraternal organizations to donate money to purchase prizes for children. Kickoff and closing assemblies resemble skits and game shows; local mayors, businessmen and others usually participate.

"People have been very willing to make fools of themselves for us," Moser said.

While the moms have enjoyed their run, Morton said with their own children long gone from IES, "we can't really claim that connection, so it was time to let somebody else put this on."

Riordan said some parents have been approached about continuing the read-a-thon into the future.

"It's been a remarkable partnership," she said. "We're encouraging people to keep it going."

Bookworms

Since 2001 read-a-thon students have been required to log time spent reading to earn competition credit.

In 2000-01, students read the equivalent of one year. In 2004-05, that total climbed to one-and-a-half years. In 2008-09, students read for the equivalent of almost two years.

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