West Chester area school sleepover inspires students to read for fun

This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website.
The annual Read Over at Mary C. Howse Elementary School gives students the opportunity to learn to love to read for fun outside of school and lets them have a night of fun in the school during a sleepover. (Daily Local News)

The annual Read Over at Mary C. Howse Elementary School gives students the opportunity to learn to love to read for fun outside of school and lets them have a night of fun in the school during a sleepover. (Daily Local News)

WEST WHITELAND — Cheryl Chaborek, the librarian at Mary C. Howse Elementary School, has been able to ignite students’ passion for reading over the past 25 years through the use of her annual Read Over.

This year’s Read Over, a play on sleepovers, had 102 students spend the night on April 29 in the school and take part in fun games and reading.

The Read Over is open to any Mary C. Howse student from third through fifth grade.

To be eligible to participate, the students are tasked with a reading challenge which runs through the entire year.

“(The students) have to earn the right to come by reading,” Chaborek said. “They need to read 10 books during the school year and there are certain rules about the books.”

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Those rules include reading books the student has not already read before, it has to be on the student’s reading level, it can’t be movies and it can’t be books they have read in class.

“It encourages them to read for pleasure,” Chaborek said. “These days, there are so many distractions for them when they get home from school – video games, sports, social media. It gets them to read for pleasure instead of as an assignment.”

Once the student reads one of their books, they have to visit Chaborek to prove they read the book by talking to her about it or write a report for each book.

Also, to discourage the students from just reading 10 quick books right before the Read Over, Chaborek also has cutoff dates through the year. Four books have to be read by a certain date, the next three by another and the final three by another.

The payoff is quite rewarding to the students who get to participate in the Read Over.

The students arrive on the designated Friday night and learn who is in their group of eight to 10 students and who their group leader – a teacher volunteer – is.

Then the fun begins.

“They have an art activity, which this year was an origami autograph book, a gym activity where they had an obstacle course set up and a cooking activity and this year they made smoothies,” Chaborek said. “In between those activities, they go down to the library for a period of 15 to 30 minutes of silent reading and can lay around on the floor of the library.”

That’s all just for the small group activities.

For the larger group activity, the students had a RiddleQuest, where they had riddles about the school, which leads them around the building to another riddle and another quest until all the clues spelled out a title to a book in the library.

Behind that book is a final prize for the students. All that is followed by an ice cream party and ghost stories with the teachers.

“The goal is by midnight, they are in their sleeping bags in the library with their flashlights,” Chaborek said. “They can keep reading until 1 a.m., then lights go out and they hopefully go to sleep.”

In the morning, the students are woken up, exercise outside for a little bit and finish with breakfast from Dunkin’ Donuts while watching a slideshow of all the pictures taken throughout the night.

It’s all over by 8 a.m. when the parents arrive to take the students home, but only after the Read Over “survivors” sign the Survivor Wall.

The Read Over is completely parent free. Instead, Chaborek has help from teacher volunteers, which usually numbers in the 20s.

Since it has always been a fun, pleasurable experience, middle and high school students who went to Mary C. Howse and took part in the Read On return to help.

“A lot of the kids who start in third grade come again in fourth grade and again in fifth grade,” Chaborek said. “They have such a great time and love it. I also have older students who were at the Read Over when they were at Mary C. who come back and help out.”

For the first time this year, Chaborek had a new experience of student-turned-volunteer.

“One of our teachers was a Read Over student when she was in fifth grade (at Mary C. Howse) and then this year, she is a teacher here,” Chaborek said.

And, of course, she volunteered to help.

Chaborek, who started the Read Over when she came to Mary C. Howse, plans to continue to hold the annual event as long as she can, especially as the popularity of it seems to continually grow.

She was even contacted by staff at an Octorara school to pick her brain and come see the latest Read Over in action so they can try to do one of their own.

“Every year, according to the kids, it gets better,” Chaborek said. “It’s something that I love. It’s a great time. I get a lot of parents telling me that it was the Read Over that got their kids excited about reading and got them started as readers.”

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