West Meade Elementary students will put away their books this week, but that's nothing new. They've been putting away the books all year.
As part of a yearlong reading project, 300 students finished an average of 73 books apiece. That's a total of 22,005, or 122 books a day during the 180-day school session.
"I thought I was going to read 200 books this year," said Denver Hickok, a 10-year-old in Kay Swanson's third-grade class.
He came mighty close. Denver and 9-year-old classmate Catherine Holgado read 195 books each, the most in their class. The 23 students in Mrs. Swanson's class read a total of 2,467 books -- more than the other first-, second- and third-grade classes.
"Readers are leaders," Mrs. Swanson explained. "From the first day of class I really focused a lot on reading. I read to them a lot and introduced them to the fact that they would have to show they were responsible by reading every night. They could read books by themselves, their parents could read to them, or they could read to a younger brother or sister, but they had to read every night."
School administrators dubbed the reading project the "Up, Up and Away Reading Program," and recorded students' progress by class using hot air balloons crafted from construction paper, moving them up the wall near the front office as the students read.
A ride in a hot air balloon with pilot Carl Strobel yesterday was to be the prize for students in the top-reading classes, but the event had to be canceled because of the threats of rain and thunderstorms. Students were disappointed, naturally, but their pride in their accomplishment wasn't dampened.
"I read a little bit before, but not a lot," said Kevin Hogan, a 12-year-old in Richard Micklos' sixth-grade class. "But Mr. Micklos read to us a lot, and that motivated me to read. I learned more. I got to read interesting stories and it helped to pass the time better."
The students chose from their teacher's collection of 5,000 books, which he says may have contributed to the fact that his class read 884 books -- more books than the other fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade classes at the school.
The students read everything from mysteries and novels to books about science and sports.
Older students, who had to read fewer books because the books at their level are longer and harder than books for younger students, read items such as William H. Armstrong's "Sounder." Younger students reveled in old favorites such as "The Summer of the Swans."
The classics were no-fail draws, and it was here that the students' love of reading was illustrated.
"My favorite book was 'Swiss Family Robinson' " said Michael Norwood, the top reader in Mr. Micklos' class with 113 books to his credit. "I liked the book better than the movie."