About 550 orange, brown, white and gold balloons dotted the recess area May 10 at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School in Seymour.

Chata Toppe, a teacher who is retiring after 35 years in education, counted down from five, and the students released their balloons, which floated toward the sky.

The balloon launch has been a tradition at the school for more than 30 years and signifies the end of the spring reading program.

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Students who read at least 90 minutes in the past month received a balloon to launch and an orange T-shirt with this year’s theme, “Reading is a HIT at Brown Elementary,” on the front. The top readers in each class launched two balloons, while everyone was treated to a cup of rainbow sherbet after it was all over.

Juan Diego and Malku Martinez, both third-graders in Andrea Chastain’s class, were among the students who became excited when all of the balloons were released.

“It looks pretty awesome,” Juan said.

“It’s awesome when you see all of the colors,” Malku said.

Malku was the top reader in Chastain’s class, estimating she read about 900 minutes. She said she read mostly nonfiction books, while Juan said he chose fiction books, preferably ones with pictures.

Both students said reading helps them learn new words and how to pronounce them.

This year, students at the school tallied 152,870 minutes. Bridget Longmeier, the school’s literacy coach, said the total is always close to 150,000 minutes.

“There was excitement about getting to pick what they wanted to read and getting to read for fun,” she said. “There’s also a lot of pride in being the top reader or getting to 200 each week. A lot of them had set that goal, and so it was neat to see them reach it.”

The four-week program kicked off April 11 with a school-wide convocation, which was added 16 years ago when Longmeier joined the staff. To go along with this year’s theme, members of the Seymour High School baseball team read a book to the students during the convocation.

Students are encouraged to spend at least 10 minutes each week reading books of their choice and have their parents sign a piece of paper to turn in to their teacher. At the end of each week, the students who read the most in their class received a baseball-themed prize.

Every year during the balloon launch, orange, brown and white balloons are released, representing the school’s colors. Gold balloons were added this year since the school is participating in the One Book, One School program and reading Ilene Cooper’s book “The Golden Rule.”

Each balloon had a card with the date and time of the launch and the address of the school, and each student wrote his or her name on the back. The hope is to have those cards returned to the school if they are found.

The day before this year’s launch, one of the cards from last year’s launch was returned to the school from Virginia. Shortly after this year’s launch, one was found in Michigan.

“We’ve heard as early as the next day or 12 hours later,” Longmeier said of receiving cards back after previous launches.

As the end of the school year approaches, Longmeier said, she encourages students to keep on reading.

“Hopefully, they will keep reading over the summer and keep finding the fun in reading and goal setting,” she said. “I think that’s a good skill to teach kids, how to set goals for themselves and achieve them.”

At a glance

Margaret R. Brown Elementary School recently wrapped up its annual monthlong spring reading program. The school finished with a total of 152,870 minutes read.

The top readers in each class have been announced.

Kindergarten: Alexis Durham, SaRai Fontanez, Justin McClellen and Sophia Stogdill

First grade: Mallory Cockerham, Nikita Cox, Hunter Hollenbaugh, Kayla Martinez, Bailey Nowland, Caden Rose and Lucia Toins

Second grade: Brianna Gomez, Colton Lloyd, Yuleimy Ruiz, Jonathon Salas and Alexis Tyler

Third grade: Faith Ledbetter, Malku Martinez, Apollo Ollmann and Fabiana Miguel Sebastian

Fourth grade: Soledad Sebastian Bartolome, Alexa Dannettelle, Sienna Godfrey and Jay Patel

Fifth grade: Katya Cox, Tyler Hagan, Santiago Ramirez Marcial, Alexis Villegas Marcial, Faithe Petty and Jackie Rivera

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.