For the students of Highlands Elementary School (HLE), reading has been a focus since the arrival of Principal Laura Mendicino. “I believe we must encourage students to read for enjoyment because reading teaches children about the world around them and breeds creativity, allowing time to explore imaginary places. Reading for pleasure is also strongly correlated to academic achievement and increased employment opportunities later in life. To me, that’s a win-win!” Mendicino said. Three years ago, only 25 percent of HLE’s third grade students were reading on grade level at the end of the year per state standardized testing. The school adjusted its focus and implemented many opportunities to celebrate student achievement and challenge students to reach higher. One example, over the past three years, HLE has gone from 19,000 Reading Counts points to 77,000 annual points. How? Media Specialist, Pete Cade, has worked closely with administration to incorporate a Reading Counts Yearly Challenge. Each year, the school sets a goal for the students to achieve. If they meet their goal, Principal Mendicino has to do something crazy. “Over the past three years,” shares Mendicino, “the students have crushed their reading goals!” Principal Mendicino has had to kiss a pig, hold a snake, and most recently, sleep on the roof of the school. According to Mendicino, “Our annual Reading Counts challenge motivates our students to read nightly. Research shows that students who read 20 minutes each night read on average 1,800,000 words per year and typically score within the 90th percentile on standardized tests.” How do the students feel about Mendicino sleeping on the school’s roof? “At first I was scared for her safety. But then I was excited to see Mrs. Mendicino camping on the roof so I began reading more each night. I wanted to help the school reach the goal!” shares fifth grade student, Joaquin Renteria Vega. And the results of the Reading Counts challenge have been proven. This year’s goal was to reach 60,000 points and the students surpassed that by over 17,000 points! And after only three years, 61 percent of HLE’s third grade students are reading on grade level per our most recent Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) scores. That’s a 36 percent increase of students reading on grade level in just three years! Principal Mendicino has set the goal for the 2018-19 school year at 100,000 Reading Counts points. We can’t wait to see what “crazy” thing she has to do next year!