A Billings area reading program for students is expanding to six schools this year and more than 1,300 students.
The program called Read Win Race ties reading to motor sports, especially hot rods and drag racing.
“What kid doesn’t like loud, noisy things that shoot fire?” said Billings program founder Dale Sekora, who has been a racing driver for decades.
The program rewards students with various prizes for time spent reading. Top readers win tickets to the Yellowstone Drag Strip in Acton where principals from the winning school compete. Students are introduced to the program with visits to their school of race car drivers and their hot rods.
At a recent banquet celebrating the success of Read Win Race, Trinity Lutheran School eighth grade teacher Heidi Renner said the program had been transformative for many of her students. A reluctant reader has fallen in love with reading after spending enough time with books to win a drag strip ticket.
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“If you learn to love reading as a kid, you’ll love it all your life,” she said. Reading is like “having the keys to the kingdom”.
Luke Shelton, Superintendent of Elysian Schools, said the backbone of education is reading. “It is sometimes difficult to motivate children to read. This program does that,” he said.
Sekora admitted to having struggled as a reader all her life. And, though he’s been successful in life in many ways, he wonders how much richer his life might be if someone had nurtured his reading as a kid. Tying reading to racing cars might have worked for him. He recalls a first-grade assignment in which he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said a racing car driver.
“When I was in first grade, what if someone introduced me to reading using race cars? How different would my life be?” He asked.
The Read Win Race program is modeled after a program linked to a drag strip in Colorado. This program is now in its 26th year and has been used by 250 schools and 750,000 students. Called Race to Read in Colorado, the program is now seeing its second generation of readers, said founder Tami Bandimere.