Local students read nearly 7,000 books over school break for Winter Reading Challenge

FITCHBURG, MA: June 8, 2022 — Area students were recently recognized for their dedication to reading as part of an annual challenge held by United Way of North Central Massachusetts (UWNCM). Three students and one classroom were named winners of UWNCM’s Winter Reading Challenge, which encouraged students in pre-K to 3rd grade to read over the 2021-22 school winter break.

The Winter Reading Challenge is run by UWNCM in collaboration with the Early Literacy Innovation Zone of North Central Massachusetts. Students participated by reading or writing on Footsteps2Brilliance®, an award-winning English and Spanish literacy app that helps children develop essential early literacy skills.

The challenge took place from December 20, 2021 to January 20, 2022. Overall, participants spent 1,458 hours on literacy, reading 6,976 books and 3,965,824 words.

First place winner Ivan Moriasi, a first grade student from Gardner, spent 30 hours on literacy; second place winner Lily Pendleton, a Pre-K student from Fitchburg, spent 23 hours on literacy; and third place winner Jahlil Ellis, a first grade student from Gardner, spent 19 hours on literacy. All three received a Kindle Fire Tablet and gift basket that were personally delivered by UWNCM staff.

A preschool class at Athol Area YMCA Preschool under teacher Kristen Mallet was the top reading class. Students spent 122 hours on literacy and read 362,661 words. UWNCM staff delivered surprise goodie bags to the class containing t-shirts and school supplies.

Laurie Saisa, Care Services Director at the Athol Area YMCA, says that in addition to encouraging students to participate in the reading challenge, the school has used Footsteps2Brilliance® as part of their daily curriculum for many years.

“Our students truly enjoy all aspects of the educational lessons, games, song, stories and more that help them develop skill sets and a love for reading. Every student has made great strides in their reading competencies while also having fun. This has been a wonderful addition for our students, staff and families as this program has a home component as well,” says Saisa. “UWNCM has made this opportunity possible for us and we are so thankful for this collaboration.”

UWNCM Director of Community Impact Judy Tomlinson adds, “Reading allows young minds to explore, be adventurous, and learn all at the same time. UWNCM will continue to advocate for reading opportunities for young people.”

The Early Literacy Innovation Zone is a public/private partnership supported by UWNCM and Footsteps2Brilliance®. It is available for free to all schools and families in participating school districts. Since 2018, children in North Central Massachusetts have spent over 75,000 hours on the app, reading over 230,000,000 words.

Reading Challenge

First place winner: Ivan, a first grade student at Waterford Street School in Gardner, read for 30 hours.


Reading Challenge

Second place winner: Lily, a preschool student at Reingold Elementary School in Fitchburg, read for 23 hours.


Third place winner: Jahlil, a first grade student at Waterford Street School in Gardner, read for 19 hours.


Top class award: The Preschool class of Athol Area YMCA read for 122 hours and read 362,661 words.