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Local third graders earn high marks in state-wide reading competition


Submitted by Sam Kissinger, Desert Mountain School Teacher

This spring, March Madness and the Final Four frenzy were not just about basketball! For students at Desert Mountain School in Desert Hills, it was about reading. On March 31st, 47 Desert Mountain School third grade students were honored at the Arizona Fan Fest for finishing in third place in a state-wide reading competition. The Read to the Final Four competition, open only to third grade students in Arizona, began in January with 394 schools.

Desert Mountain third graders eagerly read at home and school, using the free access provided by, an online reading service, and host of the reading competition.

Inspired and motivated by the example of hard work and dedication shown by their Language Arts teacher Sue Morgan, Desert Mountain third graders participated in bi-weekly Read-Ins, sometimes staying until 8:30 PM to read and strengthen their lead over the other schools. Many students also sacrificed time during their Spring Break to be at Read-Ins.

“When the competition began during winter break, the students took it upon themselves to get started and that set the tone for the rest of the competition,” said Sue Morgan, who was the school’s competition coordinator, coach and cheerleader. “It was exciting to watch their reading stamina and reading ability improve while they learned to enjoy the act of reading as well.”

The Parent-Teacher Organization made the sacrifice easier, providing pizza and ice cream for the “Brain Breaks.” “The PTO was very glad to help our kiddos work to achieve their goal,” Sarah Rogers, PTO President said. “We’re a community and it’s important we show the school that everyone can contribute, including late nights and pizza.”

In addition to PTO, parent and school support, the third graders of Desert Mountain School, part of Deer Valley Unified School District, received letters of support and congratulations from Legend Springs, another competing DVUSD school.

As the 3rd graders left to collect their awards at Fan Fest in the Phoenix Convention center, they were greeted by the entire student body lining the walkway, cheering them on with congratulatory posters celebrating their amazing achievement. “My biggest goal was to give them the opportunity to see that learning is fun and to create lifelong learners,” Mrs. Morgan said. “And as we got closer to the end, I wanted them to feel proud of their accomplishment.”

Principal Dr. Joann Schwarting said, “These third graders showed the rest of the school that with perseverance and the spirit of competition and community, you can achieve a long term goal. Our third graders, not only achieved something special, but also gave us all the gift of shared celebration.”

At the Fan Fest ceremony, each student from the Final Four schools received a medal and Desert Mountain was awarded $1,000! DMS student Josh Colaw received individual recognition for being among the top 10 readers in the state with over 14, 000 minutes logged. Josh said, “It was fun to spend time with my friends and read things I like.”

Mary C. O'Brien Elementary School in Casa Grande took the top honors and second place went to Arts Academy-Estrella Mountain in Tolleson.

Students from all 394 school logged over 6 million minutes read during the twelve-week competition. Hosted by, the competition was sponsored by the NCAA, the Helios Education Foundation, Read On Arizona and the APS Foundation. Students will continue to have access to the program until August 31, 2017.