Kiwanis Rewards for Reading Program
The Kiwanis Rewards for Reading Program is an innovative and successful approach to encourage children to read more books and improve reading comprehension skills. It is fun and it works!
Since 2006 the Dawn Busters Kiwanis have partnered with Jefferson Parish Schools to provide incentives for the children to read.
The basic concept is simple: The children read a book, take a test to demonstrate that they comprehended it, if they pass they get a ticket that goes into a drawing for prizes. The more books they read and pass a test on the more chances they have to win.
The Kiwanis Rewards for Reading Program looks nothing like it did at first. When the Program started, the Dawn Busters Kiwanis adopted a bike-give-away model they learned about from another Kiwanis Club.
They started in 14 Jefferson Parish Schools. The Club would give away two bikes a year, one boy’s bike and one girl’s bike. Before the Christmas break one child’s name would be drawn. There was nothing more than the name being announced over the PA.
In December 2009, a new member of Dawn Busters Kiwanis, Mel Dussel was sent to one of the schools to give away a bike. In the school office, a child’s ticket was drawn and when her name was announced everyone there started hugging each other and crying. They explained to Mel that the little girl had lost one of her parents recently and was going to have a tough Christmas. Overcome with emotion Mel asked if there was anything else the Dawn Busters could do? The principle responded that if possible next year, maybe the Dawn Busters could give away two bikes at Christmas and two at the end of the year. She explained that if a girl won in December the girls knew they could not win at the end of the year and would not be motivated to keep reading. Mel immediately said we have a boy’s bike right here, let’s give it away now.
A boy’s name was drawn and the office staff broke into tears again. The little boy had a similar story and everyone was so excited that he won.
That was Mel’s “Kiwanis Moment”. He knew right then that this Rewards for Reading Program could be so much more. He volunteered to be the Committee Chairperson and vowed to find Corporate sponsors so more incentive prizes could be given away. He expanded the Program to 20 Jefferson Parish Schools and every year the actual Program the children attend has grown. Just as Mel envisioned, the children in our schools are excited about reading! They are reading lots of books, learning to read well and doing much better in school because of it. All of our schools have dramatically improved their school grades.
The importance of children learning to read well at an early age is highlighted by two shocking statistics:
- A child that cannot read at grade level by the end of the Third grade is three to four times more likely to drop out of school. And,
- 80% of incarcerated people are functionally illiterate school dropouts.
By providing lots of incentives for the children to read they all can feel like they have a chance to win. And thanks to our many generous Corporate Sponsors’ donations, we are able to make sure that every child gets something to reward his or her reading.
The Program Now
The Dawn Busters Kiwanis Rewards for Reading Programs that we did twice a year in 20 Jefferson Parish Elementary Schools has grown tremendously.
Because of the great success the Dawn Busters Kiwanis Rewards for Reading Program has had in our 20 schools, former Jefferson Parish Schools Superintendent, Dr. Cade Brumley asked us to help implement the Program into all 56 Jefferson Parish Elementary Schools (East Bank and West Bank). More than 21,700 elementary students will be eligible for reading rewards twice each year, at the end of each semester.
Now, twice a year every school has a 45 minute to an hour long assembly with all the students present. We show up with mascots, upbeat music, Club members, Corporate Sponsors, local community leaders and lots of prizes! The kids get super excited and everyone has fun! And most important, the children are reading more books, a lot more! And of course when they can read they do better in every class.
Here’s what we did during the 2018 – 2019 school year:
Fall 2018 Semester.
- Reading – We were in 20 Jefferson Parish public elementary schools. There were approximately 10,000 students who participated with close to 72,000 books read.
- Rewards – In December 2018, We gave away…80 new bikes…200 MP4 players…600 Domino’s Pizza Cards for free pizza and sandwiches…700 certificates for a free “kids meal” at Raising Cane’s Chicken. Chick-fil-a, donated 600 free “cookies or ice cream cards…McDonalds donated 500 free smoothie cards…PaPa Johns donated 300 “discount book”…15,000 (fifteen thousand) free buffets at CiCi’s Pizza…15,000 (fifteen thousand) 2 for 1 certificates for Adventure Quest Laser Tag, as well as over 500 free games at the same place…15,000 free bowling passes to AMF All Star Bowling Lanes in Kenner which is good for up to 4 children to bowl 2 games each free for every day of the summer…40 special teachers baskets with different coffee’s, tea’s, spices, coffee mugs and $5.00 off Dot’s Diner certificates (80 for the 20 schools) as well a “free” SPA treatments at Planet Beach.
Spring 2019 Semester
- Reading – We were in 20 Jefferson Parish public elementary schools participated during the Spring 2019. There were approximately 10,590 students who participated with close to 77,000 books read.
- Rewards – In May 2019, Dawn Busters maintained our expanded Rewards for Reading Program and was awarded the prestigious 128 Award by Jefferson Parish Schools Superintendent, Dr. Cade Brumley. The 128 Award recognizes the countless hours that Dawn Busters has volunteered to improve students’ lives. We gave away…80 new bikes…200 MP4 players…600 Domino’s Pizza Cards for free pizza and sandwiches…600 certificates for a free “kids meal” at Raising Cane’s Chicken. Chick-fil-a, donated 500 free “cookies or ice cream cards…McDonalds donated 500 free smoothie cards…PaPa Johns donated 300 “discount book”…15,000 (fifteen thousand) free buffets at CiCi’s Pizza…15,000 (fifteen thousand) 2 for 1 certificates for Adventure Quest Laser Tag, as well as over 500 free games at the same place…15,000 free bowling passes to AMF All Star Bowling Lanes in Kenner which is good for up to 4 children to bowl 2 games each free for every day of the summer…40 special teachers baskets with different coffee’s, tea’s, spices, coffee mugs and $5.00 off Dot’s Diner certificates (80 for the 20 schools) as well a “free” SPA treatments at Planet Beach, a local SPA owned by one of our Dawn Busters members, and of course from our local AAA Baseball Team, the New Orleans Baby Cakes…60,000 (sixty thousand) free passes to Baby Cakes Baseball which also included a special game on Sunday May 26, 2019 where all of the top readers in the 20 schools “80 kids (2 each x 40 as we do 20 schools twice per year), where they all are invited on the field before the game. The top readers meet the Baby Cakes baseball team, receive an autographed baseball and had their names announced over the loud speaker to all of the fans in attendance.
We know from years of experience that this model works. By getting the children in our community excited about reading we are directly impacting their lives. As more and more of the children in our Parish get excited and learn to read, their overall education will improve and the entire community will be impacted. We are changing the future of thousands of children and our community!
Our goal is to help other Clubs across the country to implement this model and impact their communities too.
Message from Dr. Cade Brumley, former Jefferson Parish School Superintendant
December 18, 2018
The holiday season is about giving. Our school system has been fortunate to benefit from the generosity of many different community leaders and organization
One of our most cherished community partners is Dawn Busters Kiwanis Club. Over the years they have literally poured millions worth of time, services, and rewards into encouraging our youngest students to read. Dawn Busters Kiwanis has served our community for over four decades. They currently reward children for reading at over 30 Jefferson Parish elementary schools, and I’m sure that number will only grow. From bicycles and electronic devices to gift cards and unforgettable experiences, the rewards given by the Dawn Busters and their many generous sponsors make for many smiling young faces.
But the work they’re doing gives our kids way more than new toys. That added encouragement to read is paving the road to graduation. Studies show that children who cannot read on grade level by 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop of out of school. Third grade is a critical time in a child’s education. This is when students transition from learning to read, to reading to learn. Students who read behind grade level past 3rd grade will likely fall behind in other areas of study, as they struggle to read and understand directions, lessons, and homework given in other subjects.
Reading programs like the one supported by Dawn Busters Kiwanis complement the work already taking place in our classrooms to make sure every kid is reading on grade level during this important transition, and every year beyond. I thank them and the many other community groups doing their part to invest in our students the 128 hours a week they are not in school. If you are the parent of a young child, please make reading a priority every night. If you are a community member, reach out to your neighborhood school to see what volunteer opportunities may be available. Moving kids forward is hard work. It takes everyone. As we work together, though, I know the best is yet to come for Jefferson Parish Public Schools.
Students get excited about reading thanks to Kiwanis Rewards for Reading program
Updated Jan 12, 3:47 PM; Posted 9:00 AM on NOLA.com
By Earl Hodges
The atmosphere in the gym, filled with more than 200 energetic and enthusiastic Walter Schneckenburger Elementary School students, sounded more like an athletic pep rally rather than an occasion to recognize the school’s top readers.
There was cheering, laughter and joy on the faces of the children, as well as the teachers. Mascots — Boudreaux from the Baby Cakes, BOB from Laser Tag of Metairie, Katie from Acadian Plumbing and Capt. Klean from the city of Kenner — were there to encourage students.
Cade Brumley, superintendent of Jefferson Parish Public Schools, was also on hand for the event and seemed to be having as much fun as the students and teachers.
“This helps make school fun,” Brumley said. “And school should be fun.”
Tus Lee, 9, a fourth grader at Schneckenburger, has read 20 books since October. Lee eagerly waited to see what kind of prize he would get this year. Last year, he won a bicycle.
“I love reading,” Lee said. “It keeps me from getting bored, and reading also helps me with my other classes.”
Brian Williams, 12, a fifth grader, has also read 20 books since October.
“Reading is fun,” Williams said. “When you read, you can explore and experience so much.”
Added Jonny Kinnifar, 11, a fifth grader who has read 27 books: “Reading is entertaining. When you read, you get to explore so many different worlds.”
The occasion for all the excitement at the Kenner school in late December was the Dawn Busters Kiwanis Club’s Rewards for Reading program.
Twice a year (December and May), club members visit 20 East Jefferson public elementary schools to present prizes, including bicycles, MP4 players, basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, passes to Laser Tag and coupons for hamburgers and pizza. Students in the classes have to read a certain number of books to qualify for the prizes. The R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl is one of the program’s major sponsors.
The Dawn Busters began the Rewards for Reading program 14 years ago. At first, only a handful of schools participated. Enthusiasm, however, for the program grew and now includes 20 schools.
Mel Dussel, who has been chairman of the Rewards for Reading program for 13 years, said students in participating schools have read 2.5 million books since the club introduced the program to East Jefferson elementary schools.
“We want to encourage students to read,” Dussel said. “Reading builds children’s self-esteem and helps them become more productive citizens. The principals and teachers in the participating schools tell us that the children are reading books during their lunch break and that they are waiting in line to check books out of the library.”
The success of the reading program in East Jefferson has prompted Brumley to begin making plans to make it available to all 58 public elementary schools in Jefferson Parish, including East Jefferson, the West Bank and Grand Isle.
“We are excited about all of our schools getting involved,” Brumley said. “We can become a model for other school systems.”
Said Dussel: “Expanding the Rewards for Reading program to all the schools in Jefferson Parish is a dream come true. And having the support of the superintendent, the teachers and principals, public officials, business leaders and the community is what makes the program possible.”
Added Christi Rome, principal at Schneckenburger: “The Rewards for Reading program has kindled a love for reading among our students that maybe wasn’t there before. Our students are asking to check out more books from the school library. They are also reading higher level books, so they can get more points.”
Sandy Denapolis-Bosarge, a member of the Jefferson Parish School Board for District 9, and Kenner mayor Ben Zahn were also on hand for Schneckenburger’s awards program.
“Reading is the basis for all education,” Denapolis-Bosarge said. “You need to know how to read to do math, and it’s important that we (public schools) have outside help from the community. Our new superintendent (Brumley) is trying to encourage more community partnerships with the schools, and what the Dawn Busters are doing with the Rewards for Reading program is a great example of a community partnership.”
Added Zahn: “The Rewards for Reading program shows kids in our schools that the community cares.”
Jim Garvey, president of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, also attended the event.
“The Rewards for Reading program gets kids excited about reading,” he said. “And all the schools that have participated have improved and excelled in reading.”
Christy Dillard, general manager of Laser Tag of Metairie and one of the program’s sponsors, watched as the Schneckenburger students cheered for their classmates as they went to the center of the gym to receive a prize.
“When you see what this program does for kids, it really tugs at your heart strings,” she said. “Many kids wouldn’t be motivated to read without something like this. It also gives them goals and something to look forward to.”
Dussel, who has conducted more than 400 similar events at East Jefferson schools since 2006, said he looks forward to going to the schools in December and May and awarding the prizes to students for their reading achievements.
“I feel like a 10 year old in the body of a 71-year-old man,” Dussel said. “I get as excited as the kids do when I see how excited they are. And knowing how much good the Rewards for Reading program is doing for so many kids is an awesome feeling. People’s lives are being changed, and the Dawn Busters’ Rewards for Reading program is helping that to happen. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”
Earl Hodges writes about people and events in East Jefferson. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.