It has been a week since students at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School filled the sky with balloons for its annual launch.
Several have been returned from as far away as Covington, Virginia; Winfield, West Virginia; Florence and Warsaw, Kentucky; and Franklin Furnace, Ohio.
On May 12, the school released more than 550 orange, brown and white balloons representing Brown’s school colors. Some of the people who returned the balloons said they found them the next day.
The balloon launch is a reward to students who participated in the school’s annual spring reading program. It also celebrates the coming end of the school year, which arrives May 29.
This year, students read a total of 176,513 minutes, an increase of nearly 25,500 minutes from last year’s total.
Students were encouraged to read at home and record how many minutes they spent reading. They could then report the number of minutes each week to earn prizes. The program is similar to the Jackson County Public Library’s summer reading program, which begins June 1.
Every child who read at least 90 minutes during the four-week reading program at Brown received a T-shirt and a balloon to launch with a card attached asking whoever finds it to send it back to the school. Top readers from each class received an extra balloon and the opportunity to win more prizes.
Two years ago, a balloon was returned from the Moore Farms Botanical Garden in South Carolina.
Bridget Longmeier, the school’s literacy coach, said the reading program and balloon launch are activities the students look forward to from the beginning of school. Teachers help kick off the program with a convocation that usually features them dressing up and dancing to get the kids excited about reading.
This year’s theme, “The Reading Voice,” was based on the popular television singing competition “The Voice.” Students received weekly prizes for reading the most minutes, with a goal of 800 minutes in a month.
Third-grader Soledad Sebastian read more than 3,000 minutes during the period. Her favorite books are ones that take her on adventures, she said, such as the Magic Tree House series.
“It helps me learn things, and I get to go all kinds of places in my imagination,” she said.
To read as many minutes as she did, Soledad said, she would start reading as soon as she finished her homework each night and would keep reading until she went to bed.
She hoped her balloon would make it to Chicago, where some of her relatives live.
Longmeier said the reading program is a great way to get students interested in reading for fun. She credits teachers and parents for encouraging students to read as much as they can.
The more reading they do, the better they get at it, and it shows on test scores, she said.
“It takes a good relationship between teachers and parents to get the students to become lifelong readers,” Longmeier said. “Research shows that if a child reads 20 minutes every day starting in kindergarten, by the end of sixth grade, they will have read an equivalent of 60 whole school days, which gives them a strong chance of testing in the 90th percentile on standardized tests.”
Fourth-grader Caley Monnier also was one of the school’s top readers, exceeding the 800-minute goal.
“I would read in the car when we were going places and after school while waiting for my mom to pick me up and before bed,” she said.
Her favorite books are fantasy, including ones by author Erin Hunter.
“Reading opens up a whole new world and makes me think about things I’ve never thought about before,” she said.
Elmer Rivera, a first-grader, said it wasn’t easy to read 800 minutes in a month, but he was able to do it by logging in 200 a minutes a week. He said he mostly read after school and before going to bed.
“One week, I read 200 minutes in just one day,” he said.
Elmer said he likes to read both fiction and nonfiction and that he learned things from all of the books he read.
Second-grader Apollo Ollman said he would spend time reading each night with his parents.
“My favorite books are ‘The Hobbit’ and the ‘Lord of the Rings’ books,” he said. “I also like superhero books, and I’m reading the almanac for 2016.”
Apollo said he likes that he can learn by reading, and he gets caught up with the characters and the events taking place in a book.
He would like it if his balloon went all the way to New Zealand, he said.
“Because that’s where they made the ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ movies,” he said. “And I would love to go there someday.”
The balloon launch was started by retired teacher Becky Miller as a pen pal program for her students. Miller said she thinks the first launch was in 1979, making this the 36th year for the event.
The school’s parent teacher organization also gets involved in the event by paying for the balloons and helium and volunteering to inflate the balloons for the launch.
Through the years, thousands of students have launched balloons from Brown.
Principal Tony Hack said the school expects to get some of the balloons back every year, but this year they received a letter back before the launch.
“The note was recovered in Ohio on May 2, 2015, but the balloon was launched on April 13, 1984,” he said. “I think it is a reminder to all of us that we may not always know it at the time, but the mark we are making on our students is one that lasts and stands the test of time.”
Longmeier said she hopes the tradition never ends.
“I think the balloon launch is a great way to end the program and year because it’s a great time of year to be outside,” she said. “The colors of the balloons are such a great visual image. It makes the children excited to think about where the balloons will land and if we will hear from anyone who finds it. It is just fun. We love watching them go until they are out of sight.”
Top readers in Margaret R. Brown Elementary School’s 2015 Spring Reading Program:
Kayla Martinez, Nikita Cox, Maria Francisco, Isaiah Dannettelle, Dezi Klakamp, Yuleimy Ruiz-Rosa, Elmer Rivera, Ana Lyn Shuler, Zeke Ross, Apollo Ollman, Paradice Brown, Micaela Juan Diego, Alyssa Williams, Joustin Ballinas, Alexa Dannettelle, Aryona Horton, Addison Keaton, Ashley Maldonado, Jessica Miguel, Jay Patel, Keila Perez, Maria Salas, Soledad Sebastian, Alondra Zamora, Martanic Morris, Alivia Goldsberry, Sienna Godfrey, Faithe Petty, Caley Monnier, Leonardo Eguizael, Piper Hawkins, Jackie Rivera, Kendall Russel, Katya Cox, Anja Miller, Hector Ruiz-Rosa, Limber Lopes Garcia, Donovyn Thomas, Jessica Goodpaster and Kylie Criswell.