Northeastern Educational IU 19: Competition Inspires Love for Reading in Teens

 “Readers are leaders.” That’s the motto printed on the t-shirts of one team entered in Northeastern Educational Intermediate Unit’s Reading Competition.

Research proves the truth of what students know by instinct – that students who read do better academically and as adults, says competition organizer Mary Lou Heron.

“The kids who score best on tests and are going to make a difference in their careers are kids that are readers,” says Heron, an IU 19 training and consultation staffer with expertise in reading and literacy. “We know that the educational and life outcomes improve for those kids who read.”

Heron and a small group of district librarians founded the annual reading competition, modeled after competitions held in other Pennsylvania IUs, to encourage adolescents to read more and show their comprehension of the material. Hundreds of middle and high school students compete in teams, quiz bowl-style, to answer questions about assigned reading lists. Every point accumulated proves mastery of themes, characters, settings, plot, and pivotal moments in books ranging from classics – perhaps “Jane Eyre” or “The Odyssey” – to contemporary favorites, such as “Hunger Games.”

The 50 or so teams from IU 19 districts attract students from a diverse cross-section of school communities, academics to athletes. Many return year after year, giving names to their teams and earning bragging rights with their wins.

“It’s not only for the academic kids,” says Heron. “It’s not only for the non-sport kids. We try to get a broad sweep.”

The competitive atmosphere generates enthusiasm for reading among adolescents bombarded by a range of influences.

“They are trying to figure out who they are as people,” Heron says. “There are a lot of competing interests, one of them being technology and easy access to pretty much anything they want. Literacy is not going away. Our primary goal is to increase the love of reading.”

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