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Aurora Heights students rewarded for reading

Last Friday Cardinal Games took place for 4th graders at Aurora Heights

Fourth grade students at Aurora Heights Elementary participated in the Cardinal Games, an academic competition designed by teacher Katy Freytag that tested their knowledge on 20 books, on March 8.
Fourth grade students at Aurora Heights Elementary participated in the Cardinal Games, an academic competition designed by teacher Katy Freytag that tested their knowledge on 20 books, on March 8.

Cookies, trivia, reading and giant red mascots all came together last Friday for a fun day of learning for fourth graders at Aurora Heights Elementary School.

Students who read at least five books from a list of 20 books selected from the Iowa Children’s Choice and Goldfinch Awards list participated in the “Cardinal Games.”

Katy Freytag, a fourth-grade teacher who is new to the district, brought the games to the school and hopes it becomes a new tradition.

“When I worked at a school in Rhode Island, I worked with a really brilliant librarian and she created these games,” Freytag said. “In Rhode Island it was called the ‘Rooster Games’ and I just loved it. I loved taking part in it and my students thoroughly enjoyed it. So I decided when I came to Newton that it was something that I wanted to bring to Newton and share with the children — and of course we named it the
“Cardinal Games.”

Among the challenges presented to the students were pairing authors with book titles, uniting the first line with the book title, matching the summary of the book with the title, identifying objects that were mentioned in the book, matching titles with characters and participating in a group game show-style quiz.

The games weren’t the only thing that intrigued the students, however, as many throuroughly enjoyed the books they read as well.

Some of the most popular books among the students were “Otis” by Loren Long, “Interrupting Chicken” by David Ezra Stein, “Cat Secrets” by Jef Czekah and “Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave” by Linda Carrick Hill.

Damien Bookout, who competed on the azure team in the Cardinal Games, enjoyed the teamwork aspect of the event.

“Fun, it was fun to read books,” Damien said. “It was just fun because we got to go to different classrooms, you got to help out your teammates and whoever won got prizes. That was fun, and we got cookies at the end.”

Damien’s assessment of the activity encompasses exactly what Freytag had in mind when she proposed the games.

“Back in October, I looked through the Children’s Choice Awards and Goldfinch Awards book list, and I selected 20,” Freytag said. “I got the books and I told the kids about the games, so they got excited and started reading right away. They had to have five books read to qualify, and I was hoping they would read more, and many of them did.”

“The excitement continued to build,” Freytag continued. “Kids were checking out the books, kids were talking about books, which is what I really wanted. I wanted that excitement and kids to go, ‘Hey, have you read “Interrupting Chicken?” it’s a really good one!’ and that excitement did spread. They had their favorites and they did share that with each other.”

Twelve teams competed in the Cardinal Games, all with different colors for names. Freytag tried her best to create a balance between the teams by placing kids who read more than five books with kids who read just five and tried to keep the teams even between boys and girls.

One little girl who competed for the red team had very mixed emotions after the neon pink team won the games.

“It was scary,” Bella Stone, a very competitive reader, said. “I was nervous, like if I didn’t get a question right or something we would lose, and we did. The neon pink team won. (I was nervous), because if we loss I was going to be really mad, and I was.”

Although her team loss, Bella still found a silver lining.

“Well, we got cookies at the end,” she added.

Members of the winning neon pink team were as humble as Stone was competitive. Both Emily Light and Hannah Martin gave credit for their victory to Abby Faidley.

“We had a team member, Abby, who read 17 books,” Emily said.

“Abby mostly helped,” Hannah said. “She mostly helped because she read 17 books, and that helped us a lot because the rest of us only read five or ten. What we really did is work as a team to get it done.”

Abby’s favorite book of the 17 she read was “Mockingbird” by Kathryn Erskine, which follows an 11-year-old girl with Asperger’s who just lost her older brother and has a strained relationship with her father.

“I read 30 minutes from them at night,” Abby said of how she read nearly every book on this list. “Answering the questions (was the most challenging part of the Cardinal Games).”

She also said that answering the questions was the most fun part about the games, as well as the prizes.

To ensure that students actually read the books, teachers had students complete accelerated reader tests on the computer. Those who read a certain book and didn’t pass the test were asked to re-read to improve their comprehension of the book.

Overall, Freytag thought the inaugural Cardinal Games was the start of something great at Aurora Heights.

“I think we will be doing this next year and it will become an annual event,” Freytag said. “I think word will spread and the fifth graders will tell next year’s fourth graders, ‘You need to read a lot of the books,’ and give them some pointers. I think they discovered the more books you read, the better competitor you were.”

Staff Writer Ty Rushing (641)-792-3121 Ext. 426 or

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