Like many classrooms across the country, reading has always been a priority in fifth-grade teacher Lacy Mitchell’s room.

But this past semester, the Jefferson Elementary School teacher said she was faced with the challenge of getting her students to stop reading in order to move on to a math or a science lesson.

“I would say, ‘Please close your books’,” remembers Mitchell about her fifth-grade students this past spring. “They didn’t want to put their books down. I would hear from some of the students, ‘But I’m not finished yet’.”

It was that determination and focus of Mitchell’s fifth graders — and a similar commitment from Michelle Puckett’s third-grade class across the hallway — that led the two teachers to earn national recognition for their classrooms’ commitment to advance reading.

Both Jefferson teachers were awarded Accelerated Reader Model and Master Classroom Certification by Renaissance Learning this month. The two are the first in Carter County to receive this award, that can only be given when 90 percent of a teacher’s class is reading at or above 85 percent accuracy during a 12-week period when tested.

In total, the two classrooms read 3,482 books during the 12-week time, and students scored highly on computer-based tests upon completing reading their books, the teachers say.

“We were the first in the county, and I am so proud of the hard work and effort by the students,” Mitchell said. “We hope this will encourage more classrooms to participate next year.”

The teachers say for many years, Ardmore elementary school students have utilized the Accelerated Reader software program. As students finish reading a book, they are directed to a computer to take a quiz, which tests for the students’ level of comprehension on the book they just read. However, this was the first year the teachers challenged the students to reach the model and master classroom certification.

The Accelerated Reader program works with readers of all levels and skill set, and offers immediate feedback to help teachers facilitate reading-level growth based on each student’s quiz scores.

Mitchell’s fifth-grade class visited the school library each school day, where they were required to browse for a new book to read, read a book or take an Accelerated Reader test, known as an AR test to the students.

The third graders received a handful of Apple iPad devices in the classroom this past January and subscriptions to MyOn, a digital library program students can access outside the classroom. The addition of the iPads and MyOn was thanks to a recent partnership and grant funding from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

In addition to reading school library books, third-grade students had the opportunity to read eBooks through MyOn, and follow up with an Accelerated Reader test.

“MyOn enhanced their reading comprehension,” Puckett said. “MyOn would give the students a test at the end to check for understanding and comprehension, getting them ready for the AR test. With MyOn, if they had a tablet, computer or smartphone at home, they could log on. It put reading right at their finger tips.”

Both teachers say the students set their own individual goals for the number of books they wanted to read, and selected books that matched their own interest.

When students met their goals, the school hosted parties for the students as a reward.

Both Puckett and Mitchell say they noticed big improvements in many students’ reading skills and improvement in literacy levels, as well as a sparking interest in reading when not required.

“They would get excited to see their score on the screen,” Puckett said about the Accelerated Reader tests. “To them, it proved that they could really read and understand the book and they could prove it to their teacher.”