At Yorktown Elementary School, students are becoming their own superheroes everyday and creating a community of teamwork—by reading 20,500 books.
“It gets students excited to work together to one goal and to do it through reading gets me excited,” said library media specialist, April Insley.
Last year, Insley started the program “MARVELous” at the school where students were challenged to read around 12,000 books. But the students smashed this challenge and ended up cataloging 20,500 by the end of the year.
The theme of the program is intended to encourage students to read through the superhero genre. While not all of the books have to be superhero-related, Insley said having a general theme helps promote the goal.
Insley said she came up with the idea because she noticed a lot of students were wearing Marvel backpacks, shirts and pencil boxes and thought she might be able to use that interest to tap into a learning challenge.
So, she tacked up the challenge wall where she posted pictures of various superheroes encouraging reading and hung a banner that read “Here at YES, we think reading is MARVELous,” which she colored in as more and more books were read.
From the very beginning, Insley knew she didn’t want it to be a program where students received a prize.
“It’s what I like to call reading excitement over incentive,” she said. “I wanted to emphasize with the kids that the real prize was that we worked together to reach this goal. I thought that would mean a lot more to them in a few years than some prize.”
In the beginning, Insley found herself ordering a lot more superhero-themed books for the library. While that included picture books, chapter books and other formats, it also helped to open the students up to reading graphic novels.
Insley recognized in the past that graphic novels might not have been seen as an educational form of reading. Through the program she has shown parents and students how beneficial the glossy pages of a graphic novel can be.
“Look at all the skills you’re using in just one page of a graphic novel,” she said. “You’re drawing conclusions, using context. For students who might struggle with social cues, it’s a great tool because an author only has a little bit of space to write word so if a character is sad, you have to get that from their expression.”
This year, Insley changed the name of the program name to “Reading is our Superpower,” to include superheroes from DC Comics and other sources. As the students continue to surpass their goals, the program has even gotten recognition on Twitter from people like Chelsea Clinton and Marvel actor Clark Gregg.
As the challenge continues, Insley hopes to spread it beyond just the feeling of working together but wants to make it into a pay-it-forward program, she said.
Her goal is to set up a fund where, when people recognize the success of the program, they can donate money or books. Those donations will then be given to programs like First Book that supply children in need with books and resources to promote literacy.
“If we can do something to impact children in need with something simple as reading a bunch of books, that’s something that will stick with you when you get older,” she said. “That is much more meaningful than any ‘thing’ you would win.”
Principal Kelly Denny said parents have started to take notice of the program and have reached out to her to praise it. Denny said it has changed the culture of reading at the school to make it a community activity.
An activity that Insely is just getting started.
“This helps students who maybe weren’t excited about reading get sucked into the pages of a good book,” she said. “And I think as this continues, our goal is going to continue to expand.”