Photo 3 (2)Akosua Watts, Principal/CEO of Chester Charter School for the Arts, Chester City’s top performing school, today unleashed her inner artist and performed a parody of Frozen’s “Let It Go.” Since November, Principal Watts had promised her students that, if they read 50 million words by Thursday, June 11, she would do one or all of three things – dress up as a clown, perform “Let It Go” dressed as Princess Elsa, and participate in the ice bucket challenge.

CCSA’s five reading specialists assessed student reading comprehension and word counts using Scholastic Reading Counts, an online program that measures student comprehension and tracks the number of books and words read.

The program offers students a wide variety of literature and non-fiction texts organized by reading level. Principal Watts created an incentive for students to participate – the chance to see their principal perform a popular song in costume, wear a clown suit, and douse herself in water with the help of CCSA’s reading specialists.

CCSA is the only school in the struggling and underfunded Chester Upland School District to have a full-time reading team led by reading specialists and a reading teacher, as well as a speech pathologist, special education team and classroom teachers trained in leveled-literacy intervention.

Reading specialist Lisa Wilson said, “Over 1/3 of students participate in an hour of guided reading instruction each day, receiving tailor made instruction and coaching that ensures true learning of foundational skills, not rote memorization. And what they learn in guided reading is reinforced in academic subjects and through their creative arts classes.”

Although CCSA is young, opening in 2012, it has already achieved incredible results. In 2014, CCSA demonstrated the third-highest year-to-year improvement among 800 district and charter schools in the five-county Philadelphia region. CCSA’s school performance profile was 20 points higher than Chester schools on average, and 10 points higher than the next-highest performing school in the district. CCSA also made impressive gains in reading (+13 percentage points) and math (+20 percentage points). And CCSA students are enthusiastic about reading, competing with their friends to read the most books, demonstrate knowledge and increase their vocabulary bank.

Seven months of intensive focus on reading culminated today in CCSA’s first-ever Scholastic Reading Counts Assembly. At 10 a.m., 427 students in grades K-8 gathered in CCSA’s gym where the winners were announced. The top readers in each class received silver, bronze and gold medals.

Classmates cheered as names were announced and winners were called to the podium. The scene was similar to a basketball game or even the Olympics, but at CCSA students were celebrating reading. Sixth grader Elijah Stevenson, a gold medalist who read 1,161,720 words since October, stated, “This is so exciting. We’ve been waiting for this day all year.” Asked to identify his favorite book this year, he answered, “Money Hungry by Sharon G. Flake.”

When reading specialists Lisa Wilson and Kelly Nagle announced the results, 60,914,438 words, Principal Watts performed an energetic parody of “Let it Go.” Sixth grade math and science teacher Theresa Cummings shared, “You can see that Principal Watts will do anything to get our students excited about reading. Today was another example of how she supports teachers and shows children that she loves them and is their champion, invested in their excellence.” She added, “You can see looking at our students’ faces how much they love their school and this challenge.

After dousing herself with water, Principal Watts noted, “I would like to think that I motivated students to read as much as they did because of my performance. But really the success belongs to our teachers and reading specialists, who have built a culture in which every child is excited about reading.”