A heated competition across the state starts with children picking up a new book.
The annual Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl challenges students’ ability to comprehend and retain information from a selection of books. Students from Hall County and Gainesville City schools will compete beginning next week in systemwide and regional bowls.
According to Sarah Bell, chief academic officer for Gainesville City Schools, students are eager and excited to participate in the bowl each year. Centennial Arts Academy and Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy have both won the state competition.
“I think because our schools have had a great deal of success in this competition, our kids know that this is a prestigious competition and a fun thing to do,” Bell said. “I think they have seen older students who have participated and even won, and that inspires a lot of engagement from our students.”
The bowl was founded by Ruffin, a former media specialist in DeKalb County Schools. Ruffin wanted to encourage children to read, and she wanted to introduce students to the nominees for the Georgia Children’s Book Awards each year.
Thus, the reading bowl was born.
“These books are selected by a committee from the University of Georgia’s College of Education,” Bell said. “... basically, students read all of the books nominated for the Children’s Book Awards for the year, and then during the bowl they are asked questions — many of them quite difficult — on the content of the books.”
Bell said teams receive points for the questions they answer correctly, and teams with the highest points move on to the state competition in March.
According to Laura Seymour, regional coordinator for the bowl and Riverbend Elementary teacher, each year there is a long list of nominated books.
“There are a different amount of books for each level,” Seymour said. “In elementary, we have 16 books that were chosen as nominees. In middle school, there are 20 titles and high school, there are about 18. The kids read the books or as many as they can and practice answering questions about characters, setting, plot.
“You just don’t know what the questions will be so you have to be well-versed on the subjects.”
Bell said students start preparing for the bowl before the school year begins. She said many start reading the books during the summer and reread them during the school year.
“Many teams meet during lunch and practice or meet after school,” she said. “It is quite a commitment.”
Seymour said each team has a coach who helps it prepare and develops example questions. Each team can consist of between five and 10 teammates: five players and up to five alternates.
The competition is statewide and open to students in fourth through 12th grade. This year, both Gainesville and Hall County teams will compete in the North Region bowl Feb. 7 at North Hall Middle School.
According to Seymour, each system is allowed to send two teams, which necessitates systemwide competitions before the regional bowl. Hall County schools will compete among each other on Jan. 20 and Gainesville schools will compete Jan. 16.
“We use that opportunity as a venue for our leaders to come forward so that they can be those that compete in the region competition,” Bell said.
Both Bell and Seymour said the systems are excited about the bowl each year and commend the students who dedicate their time to studying the books and preparing for the competition.
“We are really proud of our students who participate,” Bell said.