At the start of every school year, Emma Page gives each of her students a picture of a horse.
Page wants kids in Ontarioville Elementary School's dual language program to devour books faster than ... well ... some cute pony.
The Palatine woman's horse race is simple: First-graders move up a reading level, and the horses move up the classroom wall.
In her colorful classroom at the Hanover Park school, kids often are sneaking glances at their standings.
"The students really get enthusiastic all the time," Page said.
It's that energetic teaching that earned Page the Hanover Park Educator of the Year Award.
Mayor Rodney Craig nominated Page for the honor after reading to her students each week.
"She's doing just a wonderful job with our first-generation first graders," Craig said.
Around the holidays, Page invites parents to the school to celebrate the progress of the students -- and their horses, Ontarioville Principal Myrna Burgos said.
"She's had a real ball in the classroom," Burgos said.
Surprised by the recognition, Page, a native of a small island off Sicily, is in the midst of studying Spanish at Northeastern Illinois University.
"I always believe in learning till I die," she said.