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On your mark, get set, read!

Chronicle Hearld, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Wednesday, 17th January 2007

It’s a story of friendly competition among schools in N.S., Ireland
By MONICA GRAHAM and TOM McCOAG, Amherst Bureau

NEW GLASGOW — The relationship between reading and staying out of trouble has students in three counties on opposite sides of the Atlantic vying for the title Best Readers in the World.

In a cross-ocean challenge officially launched Monday, elementary students in Nova Scotia’s Pictou and Cumberland counties and in Ireland’s County Clare will strive to read the most books by the end of the school year.

The students began reading for the contest in November.

"There is a direct correlation between reading skills and crime prevention," said Pictou County RCMP Const. John Kennedy, who got police agencies involved in kids’ literacy initiatives almost a decade ago.

The resulting Adopt-a-Library Literacy Program has spread across Canada and is now going international with Irish involvement in the WOW Reading Challenge.

"We really can fight crime one book at a time," Const. Kennedy said.

The schools will be scored so that the one with the highest average number of books read per student will win $3,000 in new books for its library. The highest-scoring school in each losing county will receive $1,000 worth of books for its library.

Using averages allows all schools in the three counties to compete on a level playing field, regardless of their student population, Const. Kennedy said.

"Each school is a team and each student is a team player," he told representatives of each county via an Internet teleconference link among libraries in New Glasgow, Amherst and Ennis, Ireland.

As well as the main prize at the end of the year, smaller prizes will be handed out locally to readers throughout the school year, he said, noting that some merchants will provide discounts or freebies to students presenting their library cards.

Kids found reading during random visits to schools by police and library staff may also win small prizes.

"I’m up for it," Cumberland County student Matthew McCrossin said moments after the challenge was announced. "I think it will be fun because I’m going to get to read a whole lot more and I like reading because I get to learn stuff. By competing against kids in Ireland, I might be challenged to learn something about Ireland."

Erin Carter, mother of seven-year-old Madelynn, also welcomed the competition. "I think it will be great. It will challenge the kids to broaden their horizons as well as their educations. It’s also neat that they’re competing against Ireland and Pictou County. That will be good incentive and hopefully they’ll learn something about those two places."

Municipal politicians are also involved, having pledged to wear T-shirts acknowledging their loss and the winning county’s gain when the contest ends in June.

Ireland has the advantage, being four hours ahead on the clock, joked Clare Mayor Flann Garvey. "The contest is as good as gone," he said.

Cumberland County Warden Keith Hunter countered that Nova Scotia’s four hours on the other end of the contest allows children here to "catch up and surge ahead."

Students use a logbook to track what they have read, with the entries tallied once a month by school officials and posted at www.fightingcrime.ca.

Monday’s postings showed Pictou County leading with an average of 21.5 books read per student, followed by Cumberland County with 13.32 and County Clare with 10.37.

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