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Mary Help of Christians student reads 80 books — and nine million words

Erica Dybas, a sixth-grader at Mary Help of Christians School in Parkland, broke the reading record at the school by reaching 80 books, or the equivalent of nine million words.

Photographer: FILE

Erica Dybas, a sixth-grader at Mary Help of Christians School in Parkland, broke the reading record at the school by reaching 80 books, or the equivalent of nine million words.

Courtesy Photo
A certificate and t-shirt are prepared as an award for Erica Dybas, who read nine million worlds this school year at Mary Help of Christians Catholic School in Parkland.

Photographer: COURTESY

Courtesy Photo A certificate and t-shirt are prepared as an award for Erica Dybas, who read nine million worlds this school year at Mary Help of Christians Catholic School in Parkland.

PARKLAND | Last year, as a fifth grader, Erica Dybas read over three million words in an Accelerated Reader Program. This year, she went still further — nine million words worth — a record at Mary Help of Christians School.

As part of her recognition, Erica received a certificate and T-shirt with the words “Million Word Reader.” The shirt also sports a slogan: “There is Always Time to Read.”

The previous reading record at Mary Help of Christians was eight million words, set by a seventh grader back in 2017.

To reach her goal, Erica read 80 books, outrunning even many popular book series. The seven Harry Potter books, by J.K. Rowling, total a mere 1,084,170 words.

Mary Suppe, coordinator of the school's reading program, describes Erica as a "well-rounded student who always puts forth her best effort." Besides her reading accomplishments, she is a member of the school choir and the Science Olympiad Club.

Teachers and classmates say Erica is "kind-hearted, good-natured, always happy and willing to help."

For the more than 500+ students at Mary Help of Christians, the reader program began 15 years ago. Using software from the Renaissance company, it is designed to aid reading skills but also to nurture a passion for lifelong reading, Suppe said.

Students are evaluated, then assigned an appropriate reading level. Then they set a goal for the number of words to read during the year. Classroom teachers keep track of what is being read and when.

Educators also supervise an on-line reading comprehension quiz. After each student completes a book, a test is given to determine how much of the book was understood. 

“It is quite motivating for students to track their word count,” Suppe said. “It still is a big deal to become a million-word reader.”

As another incentive, the school added quarterly awards seven years ago. Youngsters are recognized and rewarded for reading generous amounts of words.

The "Mega Million" Reader Award recognizes students for each million-word milestone. The school also added awards for younger students, such as "Bookworm Bunch" Reader and "AR Superstar." 

The reading program gets financial support from the Amaturo Family Foundation, which likewise supports the Accelerated Reading Program for many schools in the archdiocese.

Suppe, who herself says she always has a book in hand, touts the benefits of reading.  “Children who read in abundance typically have more active imaginations, an expanded vocabulary, are more confident, more empathetic, and perform better overall in their studies at school,” she said.

She added that continuing to read as adults can help reduce stress, alleviate depression, aid in sleep and improve the brain. "I always tell the students that reading is power. It is nourishment for your brain, and it enriches your soul.”

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