A Simple Idea Motivates a Community

A reading challenge for students became a city-wide competition

In a world of data points and standardized test scores, it becomes harder and hard to find stories about educators that have motivated an entire community. Such is the case with Karen Harris, Director of English Language Arts and Testing for Orange Board of Education in Orange N.J.

Schoolgirl reading a book in classKaren saw a problem in the Orange schools when it came to reading proficiency. After some thought, she came up with the idea of the Orange Page Turners Reading Challenge to get kids to read more. She made sure it was voluntary, so it didn’t feel like just another assignment. Karen wanted it to be engaging and fun, choosing to include the adults of the school in the challenge to support the kids' mission

She pitched it to the superintendent who suggested, why just involve kids and adults at school - why not bring in the entire community. The idea took off across the city, and in the first year, they surpassed their goal of one million pages read by more than two hundred thousand pages.

“We had partners,” she says. “ReadingPlus and Scholastic were two of our vendor partners who not only supplied materials but helped us in this process. For example, Reading Plus is an online software system where children get to choose (reading material). Independent reading is a key component of Reading Plus. So we incorporated Reading Plus in our instructional day and encouraged kids to use it outside of our classrooms. And because they can choose whatever they want to read, it worked out very well.”

In this interview, Karen tells the whole story of how a community coming together with a common goal took off. It is an inspiring account that will hopefully motivate others not to shy away from similar programs in the future.

About Karen Harris

Karen HarrisKaren Harris has been Director of English Language Arts & Testing for Orange Board of Education, Orange, NJ since July 2017. Previously, she served as the Special Assistant of Language Art Literacy at Newark Public Schools in Newark, NJ.

Karen has worked for twenty years in public education. She is a New Jersey Core Advocate affiliated with Student Achievement Partners and has a Reading Specialist Certification in the state of New Jersey.

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