Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl Journey Continues for E. Rivers and Sutton

March is National Reading Month, designated to encourage children of all ages to read every day. While the entire District continues to Race2Read 20 minutes daily towards our 10-million-minute goal, two groups of APS students have taken their love of reading to new heights.

The Sutton Middle Cougars and the E. Rivers Elementary Lions took first-place honors at the District Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl (HRRB) on Jan. 25 at Therrell High School and the metro HRRB at Clayton State University on Feb. 8. They now have their sights set on the North Divisional HRRB on March 7 at the University of West Georgia.

 “I enjoy reading because it is like watching a movie in your head but only better because you can do it more often,” said Riley Sipe, a fourth grade, first-year HRRB participant.

Sutton Middle School’s Ella Sipe has been competing in the HRRB for four years.

“I enjoy reading because it is an escape from normal life,” said Ella Sipe, a seventh grade, four-time HRRB participant. “Reading stretches your imagination and shows you the world in a whole other way. Without reading, I don’t think I ever would have learned how to be brave, quick-witted, or hard working, just like the beloved characters in my favorite books.”

In preparation for the bowls, teams read and studied the 2019-2020 Georgia Peach Book Award winners. Elementary and middle school students read a total of 10 chapter books, and high school students read a total of 20.

“I encourage all the students to read each and every book, and we practice sample questions weekly in an after-school meeting and at home,” said Paula Boston, E. Rivers media specialist who has served as HRRB coach for 10 years. “I cannot take credit for my students’ successes so far. It is my students who have read the books and practiced the questions and took the steps to compete.”

From left: E. River’s Elementary’s Avery Price and Riley Sipe are first-time HRRB participants.

“I decided to compete in the HRRB because last year Ms. Boston was teaching us a class, and she told us all about it,” said Avery Price, a fourth-grade, first-time HRRB participant. “I really liked that it was all about reading and remembering the details, because I love to read, and I’m really competitive.”

“Ms. Boston has done a phenomenal job of recruiting and teaching her team, and I am certain that Sutton would not be as successful if it weren’t for her and the other coaches at our feeder schools,” said Melanie Burdis, who has served as Sutton Middle School HRRB coach for two years. “It is so important for students to love reading so that they can learn new vocabulary words, learn about characters that are unlike people they meet in their community, and [reading] fosters imagination.”  

The diverse collection of Georgia Peach books included Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed, Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia, and The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson at the elementary level; Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson, Rebound by Kwame Alexander and Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani at the middle school level; and Barely Missing Everything by Matt Mendez, Internment by Samira Ahmed and Pride by Ibi Zoboi at the high school level.

Sutton Middle School’s Isaiah Inyang has been competing in the HRRB for two years.

Sutton Middle School sixth grader Isaiah Inyang’s favorite book was “definitely Rebound, because the protagonist and other characters share my ethnicity,” said the two-time HRRB participant. “I also like the time period in which the book takes place. My mom was born in 1989, so I thought that was a cool coincidence. Another reason I love this book is because Kwame Alexander wrote it in a creative way—it made reading it fun and interesting. Lastly, I have a similar taste in music (Michael Jackson, the King of Pop) to the character, Skinny.”

“I liked the Parker Inheritance the most because I liked the meaning,” Riley said. “It was very deep because it talked a lot about segregation. The difference between reading books and living it are two different things.”

The elementary, middle, and high school teams with the highest overall scores at the end of the March 7 divisional bowl at the University of West Georgia will advance to the state final March 28 at the University of Georgia.

The Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl is open to students in grades fourth through 12th. It was initiated by its namesake, who, as a media specialist in DeKalb County, noticed that a little healthy competition helped students become more enthusiastic about reading. She died in 2014.

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