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story.lead_photo.caption Democrat photo/Paula TredwayCalifornia Elementary School Principal Gary Baker, dressed as the Cat in the Hat, reads to his students from the school’s roof in honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday and to kick off the school’s annual Read-A-Thon. This year, students are encouraged to read 125,000 minutes throughout the next month.

California Elementary School students will spend the next month doing plenty of reading, in what has now become an annual tradition.

For the month of March, California Elementary School is participating in a read-a-thon where students are encouraged to read 125,000 minutes to foster a love for literacy. This is the fourth year that CES has participated, with this year's theme being Camp Read-A-Lot.

The month-long event kicked off March 2 in honor of National Read Across America Day and Dr. Seuss' birthday with principal Gary Baker, dressed as the Cat in the Hat, taking a seat on the school's roof reading to CES students throughout the day.

"Our sole purpose is to find ways to engage kids in anything," Baker said. "Really, foster a sense of community inside our building and try to find things that will benefit the kids not only in the short term but the long term."

Students will receive prizes for every 100 minutes read or every $50 collected for donations. The prizes align with the camp theme: s'mores packets, bookworms, gummy bears, trail mix and other similar items. At the end of the month, there will be a big celebration for the students who read the most in their grade level or who brought in the most donations.

For examples from the past few years, the students have gotten to duct tape Baker and assistant principal Aaron Shewmake to a wall to throw pies at them, decorate them as ice cream sundaes and dress them for a runway fashion show. This year, they'll play a human version of Hungry, Hungry Hippos, where the students will team up with a faculty member. On top of that, one student from kindergarten through second grade and one from third through fifth grade who read the most books will receive a Kindle Fire HD.

There are several activities planned for the month. So far, they've done multi-grade level partners, in which a second- and fifth-grade teacher team up so the students can interact to promote the growth of literacy, whether that be by having a fifth grader read to a second grader or just talking about books in general. CES has also hosted a McLiteracy night at McDonald's, where about 200 books were given out and students spent time reading. And right now, CES has the March Madness of books going on, where students will read a book in class, vote, compare and then decide where to place them on the bracket.

As of Friday, CES students have collectively read 12,000 minutes, but they're continuously racking up time. Last year's goal was set to 120,000 minutes and the students greatly exceeded that, so each year the school slightly bumps up its goal.

"Our parents, our community, they see the importance of kids reading books so it's an easy thing to get behind," Baker said. "And when the kids are fighting to read books, then we're all winning."

When it comes to the donations collected during the read-a-thon, they go straight back to the students. In years past, thanks to donations the school has been able to remodel the library; bolster the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) portion of the library media room; and increase the number of iPads available to students.

Though the donations are helpful to the students and the school, Baker said the real focus is helping CES students foster a love for literacy.

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