SPARKS — Reading books became more than a homework assignment for Sparks High School students during this school year — it was a chance to drive a free car off the sidewalk of the school.
Patti McClelland, program director of the Read for the Ride program, brought in a 2001 Saturn S-series as a grand prize Friday giving students the chance to win based on their accumulation of Accelerated Reading test points, which were acquired after completing tests on each book they finished throughout the year.
“Almost any book they read has a test to go with it,” McClelland said. “The more books they read, the more tickets they have in the drawing.”
Sparks High students gathered in the gym for their final assembly of the year — and the announcement of the prize winners and most outstanding performers in the program.
A loud roar filled the gym as 16-year-old Martha de la Riva was escorted from her bleacher seat by the Railroaders’ mascot to midcourt before heading outside to her grand prize.
“It was a big surprise,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
de la Riva said she read some 20 books during the year and said the only advice she can offer to her friends is “just read.”
School librarian Janet Carnes saw great improvement from students coming in to check out books and believes the program is a great motivator for them.
“At first (students) are motivated by the car. Then it becomes for a grade, and eventually reading itself motivates them to continue checking out books,” Carnes said. “Some kids who start reading for their classes discover that it is interesting outside of class.”
McClelland’s Read for the Ride has been around since 1998. She said at first the car was the only prize, but the uptick in the amount of tickets being entered pushed her to offer more prizes. Laptops were given away to Maya Delgado and Cristian Villa-Cano and the Kindle Fire went to Ramon Melendez. Delgado was also awarded with books and other prizes as an outstanding performer for reading 97 books during the year.
The point system rewards students with one ticket for every 15 points accumulated. A minimum of 70 percent is required to pass each test and there is no limit to the size or amount of books, giving students the ability to voluntarily complete as many books as desired.
The funding needed to beautify the donated car and purchase prizes each year comes from the McClelland Duffers Invitational Golf Tournament, which McClelland and her husband host each summer.
“We are very passionate about the school and the community and trying to improve the education of these kids,” McClelland said.
McClelland said she was proud of the students who were enrolled in the English Language Learner program which teaches students English as a second language. The number of books read by those students was remarkable and proof that the program is working, she said.
“Once the media catches on about (reading), it begins a positive motion,” she said. “It reminds (students) that even with all the electronics they still have to read.”