The goal sounds so simple -- encourage young people to read for fun.
Now factor in the demands on their time. They have school work, including reading that they have to do whether they like the material or not. Factor in sports and other extra-curricular activities, spending time with friends, video games, browsing online, texting and every other distraction that gets in the way.
Now remember that some kids just don't like reading, so they certainly aren't going to make time to search for some reading material they might enjoy and sit down with it.
"I see a lot of reasons why we ask kids to read," said South Orangetown Middle School librarian Patty Eyer. "We need kids to see print in order to be good writers. I think the pace of the family doesn’t allow us reading time any more. We are such a hustle, bustle society that we don't make time to sit down with a book and get into it."
That is why the Rockland BOCES School Library System sponsors the Rockland Read-In, now in it's 27th year. Friday, Feb. 18 is the official day for the Read-In, but not all schools have it then.
"To encourage recreational reading, that is the primary function of it," said Anthony Hosmer, the Rockland BOCES School Library Coordinator. "They tend to read for assignments, not for recreational reading, for the fun of reading. We are trying to ge them more involved in recreational reading. We try to encourage them in the school.
Hosmer coordinates the event, primarily working through the librarians at schools in Rockland County.
"It is to promote reading as a fun activity," said Rosemary Amabile, librarian at Franklin Avenue and Evans Park Elementary Schools in Pearl River. "It is an ativity that we should enjoy, not just having to read. They get to pick out the books they want to read. I think that is an important part. It really makes a difference."
Students are expected to choose books to read for fun rather than something that has been assigned for a class. Sometimes the simple fact that the child has no choice whether or not to read a book makes them inclined to dislike it.
"They can make the distinction, 'I’m not reading it because it is an assignment. I’m reading because I want to," Amabile said. "That pleasure in reading, most kids have it. This just encourages it, the pleasure and excitement of reading."
"That's the whole motivation," said Pearl River Middle School fifth-grade ELA teacher Jim Guerci. "'Finally, I can read what I want to read.' They are motivated readers if you give kids a choice.
"They love it. Some of them bring in three books. The reluctant readers might bring in a graphic novel. It's what they want to read."
That is not the only motivation for students during the Read-In. Teachers and librarians keep track of how many minutes their students read and turn the totals in to BOCES. Schools can win awards for reading the most minutes, the most minutes per student or greatest improvement. Reading that is part of the curriculum is not to be included. Results are due by March 4 and should be announced later that month.
"There is the contest aspect of it," Hosmer said. "That kind of gets them hooked on reading. More interested in it. What we don't count is classroom assignments."
Most of the elementary schools and middle schools in the county participate, though often the high schools will not. Tappan Zee and Albertus Magnus are among the high schools that will take part this year.
"The kids really do enjoy it," said Albertus Magnus librarian Doreen McAvoy. "Every year it has grown to the point where last year, we won an award for most improved performance. It gives them the opportunity to read for pleasure. They don't often have that time."
The Read-In can tie into other school-related goals, such as Strive for 25 at Highview Elementary in Nanuet.
"During the semester, if they read 25 books and report on each and they get reward at the end," said Nanuet Elementary School PTA President Michelle Mazarro. "My kids look forward to the Read-In. They know they can get a lot of reading in. All they have to do is read and write about it."
Mazzaro said the Read-In also helps because it breaks up the routine of school.
"It’s nice because it’s reading, but it’s different for them," Mazzaro said. "It breaks up the winter a little. They spend the whole day reading. It differs by class. Some they let them wear pajamas to school or bring in a stuffed animal. Kids think that is exciting. It makes them want to do something different."
Sometimes that goes beyond the actual reading. Many of the elementary schools allow the younger students to bring in a favorite stuffed animal or wear their pajamas to the Read-In. Many also bring in parents and members of the community to read to them.
"Lakewood Elementary spends the day reading and listening to their favorite stories," said Lakewood teacher Geraldine Daly. "We also invite special guests to come to our school and read one of their all time favorites to one of our classes. It's truly a fun-filled day and the children look forward to reading great literature."
Though the official day is Feb. 18, some area schools have the Read-In on other days. Felix Festa Middle School has its day Feb. 15. Lincoln Avenue and Evans Park Elementary Schools in Pearl River did it Feb. 11 so they could tie in to their Parents as Reading Partners program. The younger students at Lincoln Avenue Elementary were in pajamas and had guest readers that included parents and members of the community such as Orangetown Councilman Tom Diviny and Pearl River Middle School Principal Marie Paese.
Amabile also set up a reading area in the hallway outside the library where third and fourth graders have scheduled times to read throughout the day, each for a 10-minute stretch.
"They love to be picked to sit in the hallway and read," Amabile said. "'It's my 10 minutes," they say, and they are very quiet."
The level of participation varies by school and by teacher. Felix Festa, for example, sets aside an extended homeroom period for the Read-In, then allows teachers to decide how much class time to dedicate to reading. Many other schools do something similar. It is a tougher choice this year because so much class time has been lost to snow days, delays and early dismissals.
"It’s an independent choice," Eyer said. "It’s hard for teachers, too. Everybody on such a strict schedule. Teachers are so mixed about it Usually they love it, but some are behind."
Eyer's view on the subject is easy to see through her enthusiasm for the Read-In.
"I thnk it exciting to see," Eyer said. "You don’t often see kids sitting on the floor with a book. Or sitting with friend and they are reading the exact same book. You see kids with handheld devices instead. It does foster a warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart to see kids engaged in reading."
These following schools are participating in the Rockland Read-In. All are participating Feb. 18 unless otherwise indicated.
Albertus Magnus High School
Clarkstown Central School District
Felix Festa Middle School – Feb. 15
Laurel Plains Elementary
Little Tor Elementary
New City Elementary
West Nyack Elementary
Nanuet Union Free School District
George Miller Elementary – Feb. 22
MacArthur Barr Middle School – Feb. 22
Nyack Union Free School Distrct
Upper Nyack Elementary
Valley Cottage Elementary
Pearl River School District
Evans Park Elementary – Feb. 11
Franklin Avenue Elementary
Lincoln Avenue Elementary – Feb. 11
Pearl River Middle School
South Orangetown Central School District
Tappan Zee High School
South Orangetown Middle School
Cottage Lane Elementary
Tappan Zee Elementary
William O. Schaefer Elementary
Editor's note: William O. Schaefer Elementary was added to the list of participating schools.