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Contest helps build a love of reading in students

Date: 5/2/2014

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – In a classroom in the basement of St. Mary, Mother of Hope Church, two groups of students – one of from St. Mary’s Academy in Longmeadow and the other from St. John the Baptist School in Ludlow – are concentrating on questions asked to them about books they’ve read.

The person asking the questions, a student from Holyoke Catholic High School, posed a query to one team. They quickly formed a huddle and offer an answer. It’s incorrect and the other team has the opportunity to answer.

This is the Diocese of Springfield Battle of the Books competition. Twenty-team teams representing grades three through seven gathered to test their knowledge from a common group of books read during the school year.

The schools represented included St. Stanislaus School of Chicopee, St. Joan of Arc of Chicopee, St. Mary’s Academy of Longmeadow, St. John the Baptist School of Ludlow, Mater Dolorosa of Holyoke and St. Stanislaus School of Adams.

Trish Pilon, a third grade teacher from St. Stanislaus School in Chicopee, explained this is the second year of the competition and is designed to promote reading.

This year 275 students participated in the competition and Pilon said the contest is having its desired effects. She said the students are talking about books outside of their schoolwork.

“It’s more than I can ask,” she said. “It’s helping to push their passion, their love of reading.” She added the school library now has a waiting list for some titles because the students are so eager to read.

In the classroom where the two groups of students are competing, it’s clear from the looks on their faces they take the contest seriously. Each team is wearing specially designed team shirts and in some cases, hats.

They are quietly triumphant with a correct answer and appear stunned when offering an incorrect one.

The local competition is a program of the national organization, the American Battle of Books, Pilon said, which provides the questions and a suggested book list. According to its website, the program has been in existence for more than 20 years and has competitions in most of the states.

Pilon said that what makes the competition possible is the support given by volunteers and others.

“The event doesn’t happen if people don’t support programs like this one,” she said.