Inspiring East Side school wins first-ever reading competition trophy, library makeover

Other grades following suit by reading more, which could eventually boost TEA rating

A little competition has sparked a newfound love of reading for a group of third-graders on the East Side of San Antonio.

SAN ANTONIO – A little competition has sparked a newfound love of reading for a group of third-graders on the East Side of San Antonio.

That spark lit a fire of passion that is now spreading to other grade levels, and may even help boost the school’s TEA rating.

As the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament continued in the Alamo City, a different bracket was playing out as well: A reading competition.

The NCAA’s reading competition started with 64 schools across all the districts in San Antonio.

On April 1, cheers and gasps erupted as the Herff Academy third-graders found out they’d won the competition. Throughout the 9-week long competition, 42 students logged an average of 90 minutes a day, which is almost 6,000 minutes per child.

The announcement was both exhilarating and emotional.

“I cannot tell you how proud I am of each and every one of you,” said Herff Academy Principal Kelly Allen to her students through tears. “You beat all the odds. You deserve it. Our school has had some struggles in the past but we’re moving way forward, and one of the ways to move us forward is increasing our literacy.”

It was a Cinderella story moment for the school, which has never won a competition like this.

Their passion and grit were a demonstration of the improvement the Texas Education Agency has been requesting of the school, which is currently labeled as needing improvement.

“I kept on reading with my family. And my teacher, she let everybody read together. We had Zooms together,” said 3rd grader Emma Rocha, who was the school’s top reader.

As she sped through her favorite books, she encouraged others to do the same.

“We were proud of ourselves and proud of each other because we all did this as a team,” said fellow 3rd grader, Jacob Lozano.

Jacob said his classmates got so excited to log their reading minutes, they began pulling out their books at after-school pickup and at the cafeteria during lunchtime.

“After they finish their meal they literally sit down and read their books. The second graders now do that, the first graders and the kinder too,” Allen said.

image courtesy of Herff Academy (Copyright 2021 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

The third graders even began inspiring students as young as Pre-K to read during naptime.

The rewards of confidence, pride and improved literacy came naturally, but the students also won a trophy and a grand prize that will change the school for generations to come.

The competition winners get a $5,000 library makeover from Scholastic. For Herff Academy, that amounts to about 600 brand new books.

“We will work on increasing more of our Spanish texts because we are about 40% English learners and we know our kids need those,” Allen said.

The competition may be over, but the students who have been bit by the reading bug cannot wait for the new books to get to their library.

“I feel excited because reading new books it helps me with my fluency and I just like reading them and I can’t stop,” Lozano said.

Rocha told other kids and families across her community to “Never stop reading.”

The Herff kids certainly don’t plan to stop. Reading is now a part of them, their school, their families and their futures.

image courtesy of Herff Academy (Copyright 2021 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.