Flavia Birdsell wanted to prevent her three elementary-age sons from losing the reading skills they had spent the past school year developing. So, instead of spending the summer glued to the television or computer games, the three Birdsell boys -- Evan, 9, Samuel, 8, and Lucas, 6 -- signed up for Elgin Area School District U-46 Superintendent Jose Torres' Summer Reading Challenge at the Gail Borden Library.
The boys devoured books on subjects like science and sharks and also popular children's titles like "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." They also helped their school, Highland Elementary, win a trophy for the highest percentage of students completing the program, with 147 students -- 27 percent of the school's population -- meeting their reading goals during the summer.
"Reading has been a challenge for my kids," Birdsell said. "They were struggling with reading this past school year and my husband and I thought it was important to find a way to help them improve their reading,"
For Evan, reading allowed him to use his imagination and learn about new things.
"I like reading because it's fun," he said.
The results are evident. Birdsell said Lucas improved a reading level over the summer and is on target reading at a first grade level.
Principal Steve Johnson said that's the ultimate goal of the program and other literacy programs in place at the Elgin school.
"Researchers have found that for younger students reading 10 books and younger students reading five books has the same effect as summer school," Johnson said. "We see kids losing a reading level over the summer. Students who were reading at or above reading level come back after the summer and they have lost a level or two. That's why we are really trying to keep kids reading."
Sheridan Elementary School in Elgin also received a trophy for the greatest increase in the number of students who finished the program. In 2012, 79 Sheridan students finished, up 777 percent from the nine who completed the program in 2011. Students were given targets based on their reading ability.
Library spokeswoman Denise Raleigh said about 8,500 students participated this year, up 25 percent from the year before. Youth book circulation increased 21 percent, from 184,983 in the summer months of 2011 to 224,703 in the summer of 2012, Raleigh said.
Both schools will win a visit from the Jesse White Tumbling Team for their efforts.
Torres introduced a library card drive to encourage students and their families to use their local library. This year, the challenge -- dubbed Reading is So Delicious -- motivated students to read or to have parents read to younger students.
"I am pleased that so many students took part in the reading challenge," Torres said in a news release." It's great to see an increase in the number of students reading books over the previous year, and I appreciate the work of all of our community partners on this effort."
The library teamed up with the district and more than 35 local businesses and organizations.