Fourth-grader Kevin Gonzales says he has always enjoyed a good book, but a new reading contest is inspiring the Vista Grande Elementary student to push himself harder.
“Read Like a Lobo,” a partnership between Rio Rancho Public Schools and the University of New Mexico, is challenging the district’s 10 elementary schools to compete on whose students can read the most.
The winning school will receive $2,000 and the kids who have racked up the most reading hours will be recognized at a Nov. 7 UNM football game against Utah State University.
For instance, the top reader from grades 3-5 will participate in a ceremonial coin toss on the field. There are also class prizes like ice cream and pizza parties.
The challenge started Oct. 3 and runs until Oct. 23, with students logging their minutes reading outside the classroom over those three weeks.
On Monday, Vista Grande Elementary principal Trent Heffner said he has seen a lot of excitement about “Read Like a Lobo” among the students.
“We hope that they develop the habit of reading outside of the classroom,” Heffner said. “Reading is at the core of everything they do, so that exposure to language, vocabulary, spelling – it reinforces everything the teachers are trying to teach them in the classroom.”
Vista Grande has set an overall goal for its students to read a half-million minutes during the contest, with each child reading 40 minutes per day.
Gonzales said he is trying surpass that by reading 40 to 50 minutes per day. “I am trying to read some in the morning and some at night,” he said.
The fourth-grader is shooting to be a winner in the contest and earn that coin toss at the Lobos game. He showed his Lobos pride by wearing a team T-shirt Monday.
Heffner said the competitive aspect of challenge is also energizing his own two children, who are enrolled at Vista Grande.
“They are both at the kitchen counter in the morning, reading,” he said of his son, a second-grader, and daughter, a third-grader.
Heffner himself is a UNM graduate and played basketball for the university in the early 1990s.
If Vista Grande comes out on top in the challenge, the principal vows to dress up as a female Lobos cheerleader and walk over a mile to school.
He already donned the short white skirt for a “Read Like a Lobo” kickoff assembly on Sept. 26 that featured real UNM cheerleaders.
“This program is near and dear to my heart,” he said. “I am pleased that UNM was able to work with the schools to create this opportunity. I hope it is not only successful for the students in Rio Rancho, but also for the university.”
Drew Ingraham, UNM’s assistant athletic director for marketing and sales, said the university hopes to continue “Read Like a Lobo” and expand it across the state.
“We would definitely love to continue this relationship (with Rio Rancho) and explore other ones,” Ingraham said. “We really want to highlight the importance of reading.”