A group of Freedom Elementary School students were celebrated as superheroes Wednesday for their commitment to reading over the summer.

The 121 students, who had each read between 800 and 1,000 minutes during the break, gathered to hear English language arts specialist Ann Marie Byrd read from the book "Superdog: The Heart of a Hero," the story of a dachshund named Dexter who proves that those with spirit and determination can achieve big things.

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"You know what this makes me think of, friends? This makes me think of you," Byrd said to her audience.

The group of students had successfully completed reading expectations set for them, as part of a summer reading program.

"During the summer when you feel like kicking back or hanging out because you're out of school, some of you might have said 'You know what? I'm tired, I'm not going to read a book,' " said Byrd, who wore a pink superhero cape. "But everybody sitting here picked up a book or got online and read a book. You're here because you read a lot and that set you up for a great start to your school year."

Students who read through the National Collaborative Summer Reading Program were rewarded Wednesday afternoon. They had the opportunity to dress as their favorite superhero, eat ice pops and get their photo taken by teachers inside a cutout of Superman or Wonder Woman.

"We want to reinforce that everyone is a superhero academically; we want to celebrate their successes, because for a lot of kids without such a program they may not be motivated," Byrd said.

While the school wants all students to read over the summer, Byrd said, the celebration is aimed at encouraging students who typically wouldn't go to the library.

"Any motivation you can give them as an incentive to read — just to recognize them — shows them their hard work pays off," said Megan Goldberg, a second-grade teacher at Freedom Elementary who wore a blue cape to the celebration. "It's good because the other kids see and it helps build participation."

Third-grader Katherine Gallagher, 8, said she read at least 30 books over the summer.

"I love reading," Katherine said. "It makes me like school."

Krystal Hamilton, 6, a first-grader, said she read "Elephant & Piggie," a book series for early readers by Mo Willems.

"They were so funny," Krystal said with a smile.

Reading during the summer helps students retain the skills they build during the school year, rather than losing them during the so-called "summer slide," Byrd said.

According to the National Summer Learning Association, a nonprofit focused on providing summer learning information and resources, all young people experience learning loss when they don't participate in educational activities over the summer.

Irene Hildebrandt, Carroll County Public Schools' supervisor for library media, said that although the school system doesn't keep data to show a direct correlation between summer reading program participation and reading scores, there is plenty of research indicating that students who continue to practice reading over the summer do better when they start a new school year.

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"It keeps their reading scores up and growing," Hildebrandt said.

According to 2014 Maryland State Assessment reading score results, 87.1 percent of third-graders, 94.4 percent of fourth-graders and over 95 percent of fifth-graders were proficient in reading in 2014 at Freedom Elementary.

In 2014, 84.8 percent of third-graders, 93.9 percent of fourth-graders and 94 percent of fifth-graders who attend public school in Carroll County were proficient, according to MSA results.

The summer reading program ran throughout the summer — from June 1 through Aug. 8 — at the Carroll County Public Library. This summer the theme was Every Hero Has a Story, and a variety of superhero-themed events and activities were provided by each of the six branches to encourage participation.

Although the number of students who participated in this summer's program was not available as of Wednesday, about 5,160 CCPS students participated in the program in 2014, according to data provided by the school system.

Byrd said that because she and others at Freedom Elementary did more to spread the word about summer reading last year, student participation in the program doubled this summer.

"We'll definitely do something to encourage kids to participate in the program this year, but we won't know what that is for a little while," Byrd said.

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