16 students at Leon Sheffield Magnet School accomplish Million Word Challenge

Mar. 20—Reading novels like those in the "Harry Potter" series, 16 students at Leon Sheffield Magnet Elementary School have each read a million words this school year and all are reading above their grade level.

"We were just notified about our 16th million-word reader on Tuesday," said media specialist and librarian Emily White. "We'll probably have more than that come next month."

Elementary and middle school students across the district participate in the Million Word Challenge, a program that the Decatur City Schools Foundation launched in August 2018 to encourage students to read more.

Fifth graders Mikaylee McKenzie, Imran Jattan, Brooklyn Morris, Georgia Loman, Leta Temple, Abby Martin, Susie Spencer, Brycen Lyle, Adita Menon, and Abril Valenzo had all completed the challenge as of Tuesday morning. Fourth graders Xander Parker, Matthew Provenzano, Brendan McTaggart, Christian Palmer and Taylor Cross have read a million words, as has third grader Shayla Ray.

Jattan was the first of the 16 to accomplish the challenge and it only took him a little over a month after the challenge began in August.

"I checked out a lot of books online because the (physical) ones I wanted to read had already been checked out," Jattan said. "I mainly read fantasy genre books because they have the most pages."

Jattan said he is constantly reading, even while he is eating.

Many of the students read J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" novels and Chris Colfer's "The Land of Stories" series. The "Land of Stories" novels are full of suspense, according to Temple, but the build-up is worth the wait.

"All of those books are kind of hard to read at the beginning because all of the interesting stuff doesn't take place until towards the end," Temple said.

Palmer said he did not care too much for the "Harry Potter" series initially, but after reading "The Chamber of Secrets," he was hooked.

"I didn't like 'Harry Potter' at first, but then I read the second book," Palmer said. "After I read the fifth book in the series, I got to a million words."

The fifth book Palmer is referring to is "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which has 766 pages.

Parker, who read all seven "Harry Potter" books, said his strategy involved reading two lengthy novels at once to help him complete the challenge faster.

"I'm a fast reader and I started reading Harry Potter in late August and I read a little bit of Rick Riordan's work ('Percy Jackson & the Olympians'), and it helped me get to a million words," Parker said.

White said they confirm the number of words each student has read by having them take accelerated reading tests.

"They have to at least score an 85 and that lets us know they were proficient in reading that book," White said. "If they score under that, they do not get credit."

White said she and other staff at Leon Sheffield encourage the students every day to read even more, but she said the students are so self-motivated they need little encouragement.

Several of the students have goals to continue reading more advanced literature and will prepare for the next Million Word Challenge next school year.

"A lot of the million word readers we have so far, they are returning champions from last year," White said.

wes.tomlinson@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2442.