When librarian Earl Dean Anthony came to Baker’s Park Ridge Elementary School in 2008, she decided many of the children who had been relocated from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina three years earlier needed a little inspiration.
“There were some kids here — not all — that just (were) sort of melancholy,” Anthony said. “I was trying to come up with an idea of how I could motivate them to read and give them something to be happy, put some joy in their life.”
And what youngster doesn’t enjoy a bicycle?
So, two years later, Anthony bought one and let it be known that the first child to read 100 books would win it. To her delight, one of the New Orleans transplants won it.
“We waited until the end of the year,” she said. “He did not know he had won the bike. At the end of the year when we had the awards program, just to see the expression on his face when he received it — it was a wonderful thing.”
Since then, Park Ridge has become an academic magnet school, but the tradition has continued.
Each year, Anthony offers students the same challenge — first student to read 100 books gets a bike.
Each year, they take her up on it, big-time. Each year, two dozen or more students compete seriously for the prize.
Principal Tammy Armand-Golden, who has been at the school for four years and worked in high schools before that, said she’s seen teachers or staff dip into their pockets to create incentives for students, but not for so big a prize.
“I think it’s outstanding,” Armand-Golden said. “And it really motivates the students to want to read.”
Children turn in monthly lists of books they’ve read.
Anthony requires that a parent confirm that the child read each book on the list. All age-appropriate books are permitted, whether they come from the library, home or are assigned by teachers. E-books are also permitted.
This year, Anthony keeps a bicycle in the library as a visual incentive.
Last year, a first-grader won the contest, the youngest winner so far. The bicycle is presented at an awards event at the end of the school year, though the winner knows in advance because Anthony posts the standing on a library door.
“As long as they’re reading. We just want them to read,” she said. “It’s a way to give back, and make a child happy.”