When it comes to summer reading, Sunnyside School students certainly meet the challenge — the governor’s challenge, that is.

Overall, some 80 percent of Sunnyside School students participated in the 2019 Governor’s Summer Reading Challenge, an annual statewide program encouraging students to read books during the summer months. And that high percentage did not go unnoticed by state educators.

Sunnyside School Principal Amy Yost and school reading specialist Kristen Festa accepted a certificate of reading excellence at a special ceremony Nov. 21 at the Connecticut State Library.

“Reading is a great opportunity to open kids to new experiences, new adventures, so the more we can get them reading in the summer, and all year, the better,” said Yost.

Yost was named Sunnyside School principal six years ago, and she said that in her first year, only 40 percent of the student body participated in the summer reading challenge.

“We have gone up each year since,” said Yost. “We have been at 80 percent the last two years. We hope to get to 100 percent. That is one of our goals.”

Coordinated by the Connecticut State Department of Education in cooperation with the Connecticut State Library, the challenge is a statewide competition for schools based on student population and grade level. Each year, the schools with the highest percentage of participating enrollment and the highest number of books read by participating students at the end of the summer are recognized for their accomplishments.

“Research indicates that children who do not read during the summer can lose reading progress made during the past school year,” Gov. Ned Lamont said. “We want to encourage all students to read, learn, and have fun with books during the summer months.”

Students have read millions of books since the program began in 1996. The summer reading program also supports community initiatives run by local public libraries and recognizes “Outstanding Public Library-School Partnerships.”

Yost said she and her staff hold special events — such as ice cream socials and picnic lunches — each year for those students who participate in the summer reading challenge. This past year, Yost said the students had some Rita’s Italian Ice.

“We always want to do things to celebrate their accomplishments,” said Yost. “Reading is so important … it opens them up to so many opportunities. We are always looking for ways to get kids reading, and this challenge is a great way for kids to stay strong readers during the summer months and to just make that love of reading stronger.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com