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iMotivator gets children interested

A cacophony of yells from a gym of 300 intrigued elementary students quickly cleared up a dilemma for our staff Friday.

For a few weeks a team of adults at our office had been asking a pretty simple question.

What does it take to motivate a third grader?

It was a new question for our team. Typically, we ponder motivational tools for our own employees, our readers and our advertisers, but not third graders.

Just before Christmas, though, we approached several teachers at McLaurin Elementary School seeking to become a more involved Partner in Education at the school.

Our willingness and the creative minds of a few lead teachers in the third-grade reading department developed into a bit of a wild Friday morning last week.

When I talked with the teachers a few months ago, they were quick to express a need. They struggle to motivate their students to want to read, they said. Classroom reading occurs on a regular basis, of course, but the school also promotes extracurricular reading through the Accelerated Reader program.

The nationally known reading program encourages students to read grade-level appropriate books, take comprehension tests and score points.

They aren’t graded based on their point totals, but almost any successful adult knows that a child who reads will perform better on every level than a child who doesn’t.

The need for students to want to read is obvious.

And since those of us who work at the newspaper are very clearly in the “reading” business, this partnership was perfect.

So Friday, a team from our office worked with the teachers to get the entire third-grade pumped up about reading. Just for fun, we made their teachers participate in a series of funny newspaper games while the students cheered them on. Third-graders love to watch the adults they know play silly games, we learned.

The students were especially interested in the games because the class of the winning teacher won a pizza party. But mixed in with the silly games, our staff took the opportunity to explain to the students that we wanted to see them picking up books and reading this year.

We’ve agreed to reward the top reader in the third grade each week with small prizes and a photo in the newspaper.

But what truly motivates a third grader?

We never decided before the reading kickoff Friday. Instead, we simply decided to offer the children several options.

As a member of our team told the students the top reader in the third grade this year would receive one of three options, their favorite was apparent. It went something like this:

“A bicycle …”

Light cheering and clapping.

“A Nintendo DS …”

Louder cheering and clapping.

“An iPad …”

Deafening screams and excited jumping.

OK, we should have known; this is the technology generation.

We’ll leave the final decision up to the year’s top reader, but it looks as if we’ll be purchasing an iPad — loaded down with books — this spring.

Love it or hate it, today’s younger generation is motivated by stuff, specifically techie stuff.

It’s a motivator, no doubt, but there’s one more factor our team plans to bring to the table for the remainder of this school year — accountability.

On top of silly games, photos in the newspaper and the promise of an iPad, a team of folks from our office has agreed to make weekly visits to the school to enjoy a good book with these children.

The school has graciously welcomed us, and we intend to be a frequent reminder to the young minds of McLaurin that reading is fun and rewarding.

We’ve claimed the third grade, but there are plenty of other students in our community waiting on their motivator. Is it you?


Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.