On a recent afternoon, students were scattered at different spaces throughout Grissom Elementary School – around a table in the hallway, lined up in the cafeteria, paired with adult helpers in the library.

Everyone was reading.

They were all part of the GOLD (Grissom Out-of-School Literacy & Development) program at the Muncie school and they were on a mission to complete Charlie’s Reading Challenge.

“This is GOLD’s third year participating in Charlie’s Reading Challenge – fall and winter,” said Carrieann Churchill, who works at the YMCA and leads GOLD as part of a partnership with the school. “The students look forward to reading new books and taking on the Challenge.”

It’s also an opportunity, she said, for the students “to take an active role in their reading.”

“They have learned that they can pick books about different things they are interested in learning about,” she said. “This makes it fun!  They also have learned to share with others about what they read.”

More than 2,300 students from more than 40 schools participated in this winter’s Charlie’s Reading Challenge. Each of those students read four books at their reading level and completed a related project assigned by their teacher (more than 300 teachers were involved, by the way).

Charlie’s Reading Challenge, for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, began in 2016 as a team effort by the Office of Community Engagement and the Office of Athletics and Fan Engagement.

Every student who participated in the challenge received tickets to their choice of a BSU basketball or volleyball game and a special Charlie Cardinal bookmark.

“[The students] love being rewarded with the opportunity to see the Ball State sports events,” Churchill said.

Pendleton Elementary School had the highest student participation – 450 kids completed the challenge there.

“I am pleased Pendleton Elementary did so well during the challenge,” said Pendleton Principal Eric Schill. “Our current approach – encouraging students to read – would not be as successful without great business partners like Ball State who help to provide extrinsic motivation while supporting reading and family experiences.”

Churchill agreed.

“Engaging with the community is an integral part of our program,” Churchill said. “The importance of having community partners, like BSU, encouraging students to read has been proven to increase reading scores and it makes a huge difference in keeping students reading at grade level.”

Longfellow Elementary School in Muncie had the second-highest participation number (321), followed by Clarks Creek Elementary School in Plainfield (135).