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On your mark, get set, read!

Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images

Memphian Teresa Nutall smiled ear-to-ear while her son considered which to select: the Hunger Games book series or the Harry Potter book collection.

On October 5, 2012, Nutall and her 12-year-old son, Lonnie, sat in Memphis Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School cafeteria when one scholar –only one—was honored for winning the “Race to 3,000 Contest”.

Lonnie and his 73 fellow scholars that make up the Grizzlies Prep inaugural 6th grade class, started the “Race to 3,000” 47 days ago. That is exactly how long it took to name Lonnie Nutall the winner.

Now Lonnie didn’t, race to 3,000 text messages or 3,000 jump shots.  Lonnie was the winner of the race to read 3,000 pages for a total of 12 books and an average of 67 pages read per day. 

“I didn’t have a conversation with anyone about how long this was going to take, but I thought to myself, ‘3,000 pages are a lot of pages to read!’” said Dean of Students Susan Satar.

Later School Director Elizabeth Simpson said, “It is exciting that not even 50 days into the school year and Lonnie has read 3,000 pages.”

The newly opened Grizzlies Prep is a public charter school which receives funding from local, state and federal sources with substantial support coming from the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation. The mission of the school is for its scholars to “excel academically and demonstrate integrity.”

Before the doors of Grizzlies Prep opened on July 30, Simpson asked herself how she was going to get scholars to excel academically. “The very basic things for everyone to do well are read, write, and do math. So many of our boys in Memphis aren’t where they need to be in terms of reading level.” Simpson stated. ” The best way to become a better reader is to read more, and the best way to read more is to love what you read.”

According to the Memphis Daily News, the 2011 Memphis City Schools Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program test results only rank 26 percent of students as proficient or advanced in reading, with more than a quarter performing below basic skill levels. Sixth graders were reported at 29-27.5 percent below the basic level.

Grizzlies Prep’s “Race to 3,000” has been well received by the scholars and the results are becoming evident: a new found love for reading being seen throughout the school.  During lunch, gym, and restroom breaks, the scholars are adding more pages to their score board.

“Before the year is over, I want to read at least 10,000 [pages],” Lonnie explained.  “I get done with my books so fast, because I read at school when I get done with my assignments. I just like to read, and I now read a lot more. When I read, it feels like everything just goes away, and I am just dazed in the book.”

Not only have the scholars bought into the program, but the teachers as well, through their continuing efforts to promote the program and support the scholars through the curriculum and extracurricular activities.

“We require our scholars to read at all times,” English teacher Charles Couch explained. “This is something that we decided from the very first summer meeting-that we were going to push reading in everything that we did. Their books are their hall passes.  It is the entire culture of the school and the whole staff.”

With such troubling reading statistics plaguing Memphis children, the Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School is beginning to challenge the statistics and distinguish themselves with high expectations,  academic rigor, and celebrating the accomplishments of scholars like Lonnie Nutall.  These milestones inspire fellow sixth grade scholars to read more and aspire to “Race to 3,000.”

If anyone is thinking about racing to 3,000, we can all take advice from Lonnie, “Just Read to Succeed.”