Sno-Isle Libraries staff gets creative to keep Reading Challenge going

When public-health concerns from coronavirus derailed the Sno-Isle Libraries Third-Grade Reading Challenge in early March, library staff didn’t give up.

Joy Feldman with students
Joy Feldman works with a team competing in the 2019 Third Grade Reading Challenge. The 2020 Reading Challenge has been adapted to allow students to participate from their homes.

Reading Challenge team members Joy Feldman, Heather Orsen and Kathy Smargiassi worked with other library staff members to explore ways to keep it going.

It required some creative thinking to get the reading challenge up and running again, effective March 26.

“We had 60 elementary schools, with 227 teams and almost 1,600 third-graders participate,” Feldman said.

Four of the eight semi-final events were complete by March 4 when Sno-Isle Libraries followed the Snohomish Health District’s guidance to suspend gatherings of more than 50 people.

Feldman, Orsen and Smargiassi faced the obstacle head-on.

With schools subsequently closed and students unable to meet in any group settings as teams, Feldman gathered library staff together to consider what could work for students and parents confined to home.

“When we realized that in-person events would need to be cancelled, we began reaching out to a few of our schools to get a sense of whether or not schools and students would be interested in continuing online,” Feldman said. “The feedback from school contacts was a resounding ‘Yes’ and an excitement that Sno-Isle Libraries was looking to find alternative ways to continue the program.”

Other Reading Challenge schools contacted Feldman independently and asked Sno-Isle Libraries to continue the competition, and some shared their own ideas.

“We even received an email from a parent in Ask Us, Tell Us who was hoping to get access to the questions to create a ‘nerdy’ birthday party for their third-grader who was sad to see it all abruptly end,” Feldman said.

Staff members looked at a variety of online software options and found a free solution already used by and many schools and parents, Feldman said.

With the help of an adult, students log in and enter their answers online in the shared document and librarians can easily tabulate the responses.

The Third-Grade Reading Challenge web page was updated and videos added of Feldman, Orson and Smargiassi explaining the challenge and some of the changes.

“We created this home edition because we respect all of the hard work you have put in over these months and we want to make sure you still have the chance to test your skills, represent your team and earn prizes,” Feldman said. “It’s a simple but elegant solution.”

The Reading Challenge librarians had to tweak the event in a few ways. The home version is now open to all original participants, not just the remaining 30 semi-finalist teams. All questions are now either true/false or multiple choice. And all eight members of each team can participate.

The semi-final questions will be available online 24 hours a day from March 26-April 3 to give families flexibility on the best time to participate.

For families without easy internet access, Sno-Isle Libraries offers a Reading Challenge hotline at 425-238-4963 where the questions are read aloud. Hotline hours are 10 a.m.-noon and 2-4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and noon-2 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Feldman says a parent or grown-up should be available as a proctor to make sure students play by the rules and to provide any help needed online or over the phone. And parents or grown-ups need to take the Reading Challenge solemn oath.

“Make this as big or as small as you want, depending on what works best for your family,” Feldman said. “Put on your Reading Challenge t-shirt and make a team poster to put up at home.”

In an email to Feldman, Twin Cities Elementary School Librarian Laura Laures expressed her joy at the return of the Reading Challenge.

“I’m so excited about the amazing planning that has gone on to preserve what we can for these students,” Laures said. “I cannot wait to hear how it goes!”