Balloon launch caps off school’s spring reading program

Tears welled in Dana Henley’s eyes as she watched orange and white balloons float toward the blue sky.

She was emotional because she soon will retire after 37½ years of teaching, and she also was filled with pride after hearing Margaret R. Brown Elementary School students combined to read 165,960 minutes in the past month.

It was time for 560 students and the school’s staff members to celebrate the end of the spring reading program.

Principal Tony Hack handed the megaphone over to Henley, who was surprised to be asked to count down from five for students to release balloons.

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“I’m very honored,” the first-grade teacher said after Tuesday’s balloon launch. “I love what I do, and I will miss the children. I’m looking forward to retirement, and I have grandchildren I can’t wait to spend time with. I also will miss this.”

Henley spent all of her years teaching at Seymour-Redding Elementary School until moving to Brown this year. She said this was her second time seeing the balloon launch.

“Oh, it’s fun,” she said. “Reading is my passion. I love reading. It gets (the students) excited. I don’t think as first-graders they realize just how awesome the balloons are.”

Whether students read a silly or fun book or an educational one, it doesn’t matter. Just the fact that they are reading is important, Henley said.

“Anything that any of the schools do to promote reading for fun is what it’s all about,” she said. “We do a lot of reading instruction, but we don’t always have time for the reading fun. Activities like this and other activities that other schools do to help promote that for fun, that’s what we want them to do. We want them to love reading, so that’s what this does.”

This marked the 40th year for the spring reading program. Bridget Longmeier, the school’s literacy coach, said the total number of minutes read this year may be a record.

She said Andrea Chastain’s class read around 13,000 minutes, but most of the other 22 classes read between 4,000 and 6,000 minutes.

Students were encouraged to spend at least 10 minutes each week reading books of their choice and had their parents sign a piece of paper to turn in to their teacher.

At the end of each week, the students who read the most in their class received a prize based on the theme, “Reading is our Superpower.”

“It’s rewarding to see how excited they are to read and get the weekly prize,” Longmeier said of the prizes that included tote bags, superhero teddy bears, bookmarks, erasers and pencils.

Students who read at least 90 minutes in the past month received a balloon to launch Tuesday. If they were the top reader in their classroom, they released two balloons.

The students formed a large square around the school’s recess area on the south side of the school holding their balloons. They also wore an orange, mint green, coral, tropical blue, sky blue or purple T-shirt based on their grade.

Each balloon had a card with the date and time of the launch and the address of the school, and each student wrote his or her first name and their teacher’s name on the back. The hope is to have those cards returned to the school if they are found.

In the past, some have been returned from other states.

“We’ll probably hear back in the next week or so from people that have found the balloons,” Longmeier said. “It’s cool.”

She said the balloon launch is a fun culminating activity near the end of the school year.

“It is neat just to see their faces and how excited they are,” Longmeier said of the students.

First-graders Rylan Sutton and Eden Galyan both said the balloons looked like stars when they were high in the sky.

Rylan read nearly 800 minutes in the past month and said he always has been a big reader.

“I like the scholastic books, the big ones,” he said, noting the reading program helps him become a better reader.

Eden said she read about 350 minutes even though she doesn’t typically read much in her spare time. She said she participates in the reading program “because I like the school.”

Several parents, including some who participated in the balloon launch when they were in school, come to watch the release.

“Parents come back, too, and say it never gets old, and it really doesn’t,” Longmeier said.

She praised the teachers for encouraging the students to read and making it important. The hope is that students will continue to read once the school year ends.

“I think it’s good for them because it’s just for fun,” Longmeier said. “It’s outside of their regular reading at school, so it’s just to try to get them motivated going into the summer to read.”

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Margaret R. Brown Elementary School recently wrapped up the 40th annual monthlong spring reading program. The school finished with a total of 165,960 minutes read.

The top readers in each class have been announced.

Kindergarten: Darion Tatlock, Katia Sebastian, Victor Toins, Katalina Dykes, Marlie Lynch and Baltazar Sebastian Juan

First grade: Wilson Francisco Baltazar, Paisleigh Thurston, Payton Jackson, Cristian Juan Gaspar, Rylan Sutton and Devin Crussel

Second grade: Anniston Rennekamp, Magdalena Sebastian Bartolome, Fiona Toral and Linkin Royalty

Third grade: Tanya Sebastian, Maria Francisco, Kaylee Jackson and Banesa Sebastian Juan

Fourth grade: Alexx Milikan, Briana Gomez and Ana Gaspar Santiago

Fifth grade: Aiden Ramirez, Erica Baltazar Diego, Manuel Ramirez, Kimberlin de los Santos and Marc Petro