ST. GEORGE — It may not have been pretty, or pleasant to smell, but the director of Dixie Montessori Academy kept her word and ate a handful of fried worms at an assembly Friday morning.
In September, Chelsea Bergeron, the school’s new director, challenged her K-7 students to read 100,000 pages in age-appropriate books. If they met the challenge, she promised to eat worms.
After the students surpassed their goal by reading more than 116,000 pages, Bergeron had no choice but to live up to her promise.
During a Friday morning assembly, one of the academy’s administrative assistants, Mariah Phares, battered and fired four mouth-watering worms for her director to eat. For the school’s nervous parents, the worms had been parboiled and chilled the night before.
“They tasted like chewy dirt,” Bergeron said when one student ventured the question.
The idea of such a disgusting breakfast came from a school project titled “Fall into Reading.”
Growing up, Bergeron’s favorite book was “How to Eat Fried Worms.” The incentive was clear, she said. If the students met the goal of reading 100,000 pages she would live up to the title of the book and consume the squishy invertebrates.
While acting as a fun, though nauseating, motivational tool, it also had academic value, Bergeron said.
“Because the school was struggling with its test scores, I moved out here from Tennessee to help improve that,” she said. “I wanted to think of a fun way to not only help them read at school, but to read at home with their parents as well.”
Studies show that while most children are fortunate to have books in their lives, especially at home, many do not.
Reading has cognitive benefits. Brain scans show that hearing stories strengthens the part of the brain associated with visual imagery, story comprehension and understanding the meaning of words.
In a landmark 1985 report, “Becoming a Nation of Readers,” the single most important activity for building knowledge and eventual success in reading is exposure to books.
“If someone is not reading to children from the time that they are born they are missing all of the language skills and comprehension,” Bergeron said. “They have to hear the words to learn them.”
Although a school’s learning environment plays a critical role in a child’s development, learning at home is equally as important.
“Not only does it help when parents model fluency and what reading skills their child should aspire to, but it also creates the connection between home and school,” Bergeron said. “In turn, this creates a stronger bond within the family. Ultimately happier families create happier students who learn better.”
Along with improving basic word recognition and comprehension, there is a trickle-down effect from reading that impacts all other academic disciplines such as science, math and history, Bergeron added.
Sixth-grade student Jacob Duncan was in awe of his director’s dedication, but still a little queasy.
“It’s a cool thing,” Duncan said. “But, I thought I was going to throw up watching her. If I had to eat the worms I would definitely throw up.”
Although Duncan still has 7,500 pages to go to meet his personal goal, he managed to read approximately 10,000 pages by the November deadline.
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