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Imagine horses, bulls, sheep and pigs suddenly rushing toward a common thing. Now replace those animals with 400 kids, rushing toward books. This is the effect that Stampede to Read has on kids in the area.
Starting in 2009, the program was formed as an education incentive, spurring young students to read a certain amount of time each day to gain a free ticket to the Elizabeth Stampede. Preschool and elementary kids log their minutes, and get trinkets with each finished sheet. After four sheets are filled out, they achieve their ultimate goal: the rodeo ticket.
“Going out to these schools and seeing these couple thousand bright shiny faces, everyone's worried about the future, but heck, I'm not. They're bright, eager to learn,” said Jace Glick, Elizabeth Stampede's president. “It's a unique and beautiful opportunity to have a positive impact on those young people.”
To get the students excited about the program, a team from the rodeo, including this year's crowned nobility, rolled into the school full of energy and information. The rodeo clown, J.W. Winklepleck, popped in with a lariat rope, and showed the kids how to lasso a calf — he became the calf.
“He talks about the importance of reading, everyone mentions reading, and brings in different rodeo equipment, like ropes the bull riders use,” said Carol Williams, the Stampede's community relations committee vice chair. “Then he gets audience presentation. He was the calf that got caught and fell down on the floor and flung his feet around. He's amazing.”
The students leave the assembly with gusto and packets for their parents. Last year a total of 1,600 children signed up for the program. Elizabeth Stampede gave free entry to 400 kids, and Williams said that number always increases. This year's numbers are not in yet, but the team held rallies at Legend Academy, Running Creek, Singing Hills, Franktown and Elbert Elementary Schools.
This year's Elizabeth Stampede is scheduled for May 31 through June 3 at Casey Jones Park.
The students should be about halfway through their challenge right now. Their teachers keep a stack of blank and filled-out reading logs. Younger kids have a goal of two hours per week, while older kids need to read for four hours. All of the reading has to be done outside school hours, but many children are assigned reading minutes as part of their nightly homework, which counts toward the program. The tiniest participants lean on parents to check off their nightly reading time.
“One year I heard there was this younger student,” Williams said. “They were so wanting to get this done and earn their rodeo ticket that when they got home with mom and dad after day care, before mom and dad could get their coat off, they had to sit down and do their reading.”
Williams noted that this also encourages parents to spend time reading to their youngsters. In addition to being fun for children who read eagerly, teachers have noticed reluctant readers starting for the Stampede program, and continuing the routine even after they get a ticket.
An elementary participant was up past bedtime one night when her mom came in to tell her to turn off the light. She found her daughter reading to their cat, who was snuggling next to her. The mom couldn't refuse when the girl said she needed five more minutes to complete her time for the night.
“I've heard other adults say, `Wow, I wish there had been a program like this when I was in elementary school. Maybe I would've enjoyed reading more,'”
Stampede to Read morphed from a similar program that sent kids to Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, but the desire to keep the reward within the community was too great. Williams, a veteran schoolteacher, was enlisted a couple years after the program started.
“It started to just get into the schools and tell the kids about the rodeo, and at the same time encourage the kids to read. Reading is the key to everything they're going to do in their lives,” Williams said. “It's a win-win for everybody. Teachers are happy. Kids are happy.”
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