HED: Student finds fun, success in books

By Jennifer Ginn

Daily Journal

NEW ALBANY - Teanesa Harris, 15, was a typical student at New Albany Middle School last year.

This eighth-grader didn't like to read much and school work wasn't a top priority.

"I just really didn't care," Harris said. "I liked just hanging out with my friends."

Thanks to the Accelerated Reader Program, which encourages students to read by letting them earn points and prizes, she has turned into the top reader at the school.

In the Accelerated Reader Program, books are divided into grade levels. A student reads only those books on her level.

Each book also is assigned points based upon the number of words. The more words there are in a book, the more points it's worth. Those points are traded in at a school "store" that offers everything from sleeping bags to candy.

Kathy Lewis, Accelerated Reading coordinator for New Albany Schools, said a student can earn about 100 points during the school year by reading in the hour allotted during the regular school day.

Harris tops the reading list this year with 527 points.

"I didn't read too much," Harris said. "I didn't like it at first. I started reading a lot this year. I wanted to go to Megasports. I didn't get to go last year."

As an incentive, Lewis said each student who earned 200 points earned a field trip to Megasports in Tupelo. Harris earned her trip this year, sporting fresh scrapes on her knees from a go-cart mishap to prove it.

Even though Harris was driven to start reading because of the field trip, she found out something amazing along the way.

She actually likes books.

"I read maybe an hour a day or so," she said. "I read outside school. I started reading a lot of different kinds of books. I have lots of favorites, practically all of them I read. I like the Babysitter's Club, Sweet Valley and Nancy Drew books."

Harris also was spurred on to read more by some close competition. Lewis said Laurie McMillen, also an eighth-grader, gave Harris a run for her money. McMillen also has topped the 500 mark.

"It's very unusual," Lewis said. "Both girls have worked very hard. Research shows that if a student reads an hour a day, they should gain two grade levels of reading growth in a year rather than just one."

What made Harris' situation that much bigger an accomplishment is prior to this year, she was having problems in school. This year, her grades have improved as well as her reading skills.

So what started out as an urge to take a field trip has turned into an experience that could change the rest of her life.

"Oh, she'll be a top student in high school," Lewis said. "She'll be fine. She should do very well in high school, no problems."

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