Written by Jenn Fleming, AmeriCorps member proudly serving on the Lamar Advertising Team at Democracy Prep.
There are three big awards students can win at my school. One is for Perfect Attendance, “Principal's List” is a particularly prestigious A Honor Roll award, and the last is the evocatively named “Millionaire’s Club”. It’s an award for reading, achieved when you read 1,000,000 words as tracked through AR (or Accelerated Reader to the uninitiated). There are some benchmark clubs based not on words, but AR points to hold you until you become a member of The Club. Usually once a week, a quiet afternoon will be broken by a celebratory shout down the hall. “So-in-so in the fifty club and higher!” Teachers are competitive over their students and want the whole school to know about scholar successes.
A newly minted millionaire is easy to spot. Decked out in a royal red cape with faux-fur trim and topped with a crown covered in acrylic gems, this is a very public victory lap. The message is clear: cool kids are the ones who read. It comes with a t-shirt too, one so special that a student can wear it any day of the week, even on regular uniform days. It’s maroon with the Marauders Map from Harry Potter on the back - incidentally, the Harry Potter series alone is enough to get you in the club, which I should know since it got me my first million. Teachers are eligible, actually encouraged to participate. Classroom doors are stamped with the covers of our completed novels: coolness doesn’t stop with kids.
Currently, I’m a 4.9 millionaire with 750 points, a fact I spread with indiscreet, shameless pride, all to impress eleven-year-olds. I give out recommendations, have a running list of students reading books I read when I was their age for conversation starters, am in a competition with a student over A Series of Unfortunate Events, and take a ridiculous amount of joy in celebrating students when they meet their trimester goal with a lame dance to the truncated lyrics of The Pointer Sisters classic “I’m So Excited”. Our fifth graders have done particularly well this trimester, but no accomplishment stands greater than Jane Smith* - still working on her fluency - not only meeting her goal but then going on to get 85s and higher on chapter books. That was a celebration that went down both hallways of the middle school.
“Read, baby, read” is a phrase heard throughout the middle school. It’s both encouragement for a struggling reader and what we say after they’ve met their goal. Say it with impressed wonder, “read, baby, read”. I’m happy to say that they are.
*Name changed to protect student's identity.