Reading 400 books pays off for youth

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

BURLINGTON — There are some people that never read 400 books in a lifetime, much less in a year. But, that’s exactly what one Burlington first-grader has done.

Jake Helton was honored Thursday for his literary accomplishment with a surprise visit from Marshall University basketball player Mark Patton.

The youngster was quite familiar with Patton. He and his family attend MU games regularly and has been a fan of Patton, a 6-foot-10 senior from Barboursville, W.Va.

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“I just couldn’t believe it. It was such a big surprise. I didn’t even know I was going to be a part of it,” Jake said of the school-wide assembly in his honor.

Jake read 400 books through the Accelerated Reader program, a widely used computer-based program that tests children’s comprehension of the books they have read. The books can be checked out from the library or the child’s classroom, as long as there is a corresponding test for the book on the AR computer program.

The AR program also awards points for books read based on the length and difficulty of the book. Jake earned 300 points with AR.

“The average is about 30 points,” said Jake’s teacher, Mindy Ball. “So, he’s the best I’ve ever had in my class.”

There has been several students reach the 100-point milestone in her class, she said.

Ball said she wanted to do something exceptional for Helton’s accomplishment, so she called Patton’s mother and asked her if she though her son would be willing to come for the assembly. It wasn’t until Wednesday night at about 9:30 p.m. that she found out the answer.

“Mark (Patton) said he would be honored. He’s a good Christian person and he said he would love to be a part of it,” Ball said.

She said Patton autographed a basketball for Jake and also signed autographs for students and teachers.

The teacher said Jake’s success has been phenomenal, but is not hard to believe. She said he is one of the most competitive and highly motivated kids she has every taught.

He also excels at math due to his motivation, Ball said.

Jake himself admits he likes the competition of the AR program.

“Last year, there was a girl in fifth grade that had 325 points (Burlington’s AR school record), so I wanted to beat her,” he said with a smile.

Although he only has 300 points right now, the first-grader said he is going to have the school record before school lets out for the summer.

Kelli Helton, Jake’s mother and Burlington kindergarten teacher, said her son’s love of reading has increased as he has gotten older. Their collection of books at their house tops out at probably 500 or more, she said.

“He always has his nose in a book,” Helton said. “We’ll be on the way to school and he’ll be reading a book.”