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Books and ball hockey at Salem Public School encourages boys to read

Reading rewards - Adam Davies, is too engrossed in his book to look up. Davies is part of the books and ball hockey club at Salem Public School.  submitted photo

Books and ball hockey at Salem Public School encourages boys to read

by Kelly Waterhouse

SALEM - If you want to get boys to read more, let them play ball hockey. At least that is the philosophy behind a pilot project headed by grade 2 and 3 teacher Bryan Farnworth at Salem Public School.

“It’s not a new idea,” Farnworth said, noting he was involved in other sports events through with the Upper Grand District School Board that used sports an incentive to encourage for reading for boys. “It is more than Jim was willing to donate the time ... We couldn’t afford it as a school otherwise.”

Jim Ranahan and his wife Jackie are parents of children at the school and owners of the Centre Wellington Ball Hockey arena on County Road 18.

“I gave my son Koen my ball hockey card and a note to give to his teacher that I would donate use of the ball hockey facility for any school activity that he deemed worthy,  such as gym class or whatever. He called me a few days later with the idea of forming the “books and ball hockey club” and we worked out the details from there,” Jim Ranahan said.

“We were absolutely thrilled with the idea that we could use our facility to participate in motivating kids to read,” Jackie Ranahan added.

A little over a month into the program, more than 50 boys have participated in a program that requires students to come to school between 8:20 and 8:40am, sign in  to the school library under the watchful eye of Farnworth, and read for a total of 15 minutes four days a week.

Once the boys have completed a full month of reading, they are included in a game of ball hockey at the Salem arena for a full afternoon, during school hours, to reap their reading rewards.

“There is a need for boys to get motivated for reading ... This is a hockey crazy community here, so this activity sold itself, ” Farnworth explained.  

“We’re getting boys motivated to read, and that is incredible.”

Even more incredible is that the school has only 76 boys total (from kindergarten to grade 6)  and Jim Ranahan reported that they had logged a combined total of 240 hours of reading in just  February and March.

School principal Saskia Marquis said this is “an excellent program,” and the support of the UGDSB has been great,  offering the small school books of interest to boys, such as non-fiction and graphic novels.

“We are hoping to see the benefits, that this will improve the fluency and comprehension of these young readers,” Marquis said.

Farnworth can attest to the  immediate results he sees in these students.

“Boys are active,” Farnworth notes, adding that “this is not a silent event - and that’s okay.

“What’s nice is to see groups of boys gathered around reading a book together,” Farnworth said. “But this is great because they interact over the text; they talk about it.”

In fact, Farnworth believes this has been positive for boys who struggle with reading also.

“This gives an opportunity for boys who may have self-esteem issues with reading more confidence, and I see the evidence of that.”

Farnworth said the response from parents has been equally supportive, earning him thanks for having students who are eager to get to school early to get to work.

He believes Marquis’ support, in a leadership role, has also been instrumental.

“She was super excited about this. She’s sourced books specific for the club and helped pay for the bus,” Farnworth said.

As a teacher, watching the boys create a sense of community through “books and ball hockey” makes all his early mornings worthwhile.

“To watch the boys interact over two hours of ball hockey was amazing,” he said, noting that the students worked together to create teams, to set up the games and did it all independently.

“It builds a sense of community with the hockey,” he said.

The Ranahans agree. “It’s absolutely a win-win for all. The kids are motivated to read, had a blast playing ball hockey for their reward, and we feel terrific that we could participate by donating the facility.”

They are willing to donate the same access to area schools who adopt the “books and ball hockey” program, free of charge.  

“To have parents who are willing to offer the arena for free ... We are very thankful to the Ranahan family,” Marquis said.

For more information on the program, contact Jim Ranahan at 519-994-0500 or

April 13, 2012


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