McHENRY, Ill., May 16, 2014 – Belleville West High School, in southern Illinois, has been named the grand prize winner of the third annual Follett Challenge, a competition to identify, reward and promote the most innovative teaching and learning programs. The high school won for its cutting-edge "Community of Readers" program, which challenges students in each grade level to become avid and engaged pleasure readers.
The program, in its fourth year, was the brainchild of the school's English department as it explored ways to encourage students to read for sheer pleasure, in addition to reading for assignments. "We saw too many students who were apathetic about reading, and we watched as our own classes sometimes settled into ruts," said John Lodle, Belleville West's English department chair. "We wanted to share our personal passion for books as well as spark new enthusiasm for reading in our students."
Each grade level at Belleville West is challenged to read one million pages for fun. In its first year, the school's freshmen read an average of 2,430 pages each, translating to more than 1.4 million pages total for the class.
"The program has resulted in a change in the whole culture of our school, and it also resulted in some impressive gains on our school's standardized test scores," Lodle said. "When we heard about the Follett Challenge, we saw a way to share our excitement about what we are doing at our school."
The $200,000 Follett Challenge annually provides a forum for K-12 schools to share inspiring stories of how their innovative programs are preparing students for the demands of the 21st century.
"Belleville West's program is helping create literate, confident readers who are ready to tackle college and career challenges," said Tom Schenck, president, Follett School Solutions. "We salute them for their impressive program, and all the schools that showed off their effective approaches to 21st century learning in this year's Follett Challenge."
Belleville West, which last month was announced as one of the contest's four semifinalists, will earn a total of $65,000 in Follett products and services.
"We plan to add new books, ebooks, and subscriptions from Follett to our school's library," Lodle said. "As we see more and more of our students reading on tablets, laptops and cell phones, we're especially excited about the opportunity to add new ebooks to our library's collection."
Belleville West's video submission has been viewed on the Follett Challenge website more than 2,800 times, which has contributed to the English department's goal of helping to share the "Community of Readers" program concept with other schools across the country.
"Knowing teachers in other districts have learned about what we're doing through the Follett Challenge is very gratifying," Lodle said. "And we'd like to use our success in this contest to work with other schools in our district to develop similar programs."
According to Sue Adelmann, one of six Follett Challenge judges, Belleville West clearly stood out in this year's competition.
"What touched us all is the amount of outreach the school had with the program in the context of the million books," said Adelmann, senior director/market intelligence, Follett School Solutions. "You could clearly see that the school has successfully moved the needle and changed kids' lives."
The other three semifinalists were: Albert P. Terhune Elementary School in Wayne, N.J.; Memorial and Thomas Jefferson middle schools in Fair Lawn, N.J.; and Wayland Union Schools in Wayland, Mich. Each earned $35,000 in Follett products and services. An additional six $5,000 prizes (in products and services) were awarded to the "People's Choice" winners – those schools whose video submissions received the highest number of online votes from the public. All four semifinalist schools also won People's Choice honors.