PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Students from 11 Pinellas County Schools participated in a Boys Book Battle competition on Friday. It’s part of a program aimed at getting male students engaged in reading and reading retention.
The 3rd through 5th grade elementary school boys were challenged to put their reading, comprehension and evidence finding skills to the test to answer questions about the 6 books they were assigned this school year based on topics such as sports, pets and video games.
A team of five boys from Mildred Helmes Elementary School in Largo won this year's competition.
"I am so excited because it is extremely fun. It changes the way I think about reading completely. I used to think of it as homework but now I know it can be fun," said Michael Curry who is a student on the winning team.
The Pinellas County School District is targeting boys specifically because data shows that boys trail girls in reading.
According to statewide assessments from 2018-2019 (the most recent year of data collection):
• 44% of third grade boys are reading below grade level, compared to 40% of girls.
• 53% of 10th grade boys are reading below grade level, compared to 42% of girls.
The Boys Book Battle is sponsored through a Pinellas Education Foundation grant to help close the gender achievement gap.
According to the Pinellas County School District, boys develop literacy skills later than girls. Boys prefer competition and side-by-side interaction rather than face-to-face. While girls like a more structured environment and a discussion-focused learning environment.
The Task Force on Closing the Achievement Gap for Boys, HB 7033, was formed last summer.
Maria Athana Sulis in the Pinellas County School District’s Student Assignment department said it’s exciting to see the boys truly enjoy reading.“This is part of getting boys not only excited and motivated about reading but talking about literature,” she explained adding that both nationally and internationally there is a gender gap when it comes to reading.
“The boys are now going 'can we do another battle? Can we do another battle?' So the fact that they even want to read and continue reading shows that they’re really starting to get interested on their own,” she added.
Bronwyn McCarthy of Pinellas County Schools Library Media agrees. “This kind of taps into some of that competitiveness too and I think that helps. You could see them cheering and you could see them jumping up and down when they got a question right but we also saw them cheering for each other and that’s wonderful,” she explained.
The Pinellas County School District hopes to expand the Boys Book Battle to other schools in the future. The district also hosts a Battle of the Books event that encompasses students of both genders in April.