Ashford Park Elementary students ready to compete in the Jasper, Ga., Divisional Championship on Feb. 27. (Special)
Ashford Park Elementary students ready to compete in the Jasper, Ga., Divisional Championship on Feb. 27. (Special)

Ashford Park Elementary School is on the way to the Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl Organization state finals after mopping up the competition this weekend in Jasper, Ga.

Ten Ashford Park Elementary students who excel in reading, and beating other teams at the buzzer, already have a regional championship and divisional championship under their belts after dominating at matches on Jan. 30 where they were the best of 55 DeKalb elementary schools; on Feb. 13 when they were the best of 15 metro Atlanta schools; and then taking home the divisional title on Feb. 27 by easily defeating five other teams.

On March 19 the team travels to the University of Georgia to compete to be the best reading bowl team in the state.

“I’m astounded by what they’ve achieved,” said Coach David Somerson. “Everyone cried” after winning Feb. 27, he added.

The team with their Reading Bowl Divisional Championship trophy.

No tears this weekend, though. The students will be wearing sunglasses, carrying their shiny trophies and riding in a stretch limo to Maggiano’s on Friday. Somerson said he told the students if they made it to the state finals he would treat them to a night like no other and is following through with his promise.

“The kids are elated,” he said.

Those on the Ashford Park Elementary School team are Gil Slomka, Melissa Olvera-Torres, Kyndal Duff, Haven Somerson, Jordan Spindel, Julia Mansour, Vedhika Krishnan, Mary Entrekin, Handley Greeley and Kate Lim.

Dr. Leticia Ekhaml

Somerson was asked in October to take on coaching duties by longtime coach Dr. Leticia Ekhaml, Ashford Park Elementary’s media specialist, after she became sick and had to take an extended leave of absence.

“Because Reading Bowl was her passion, Dr. Ekhaml immediately called me and asked if I could fill in as Reading Bowl coach for the year, so they would be able to have a team,” Somerson said. “I am a proud parent of one of the Reading Bowl students, Haven Somerson. Long story short, I had no idea the experience would be so ingratiating for all involved.”

How the Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl competition works:

Elementary and middle school students must read the current Georgia Children’s Book Award Nominees. This year there were 17 books for elementary students.

Each school will participate in six rounds.

Each round will consist of 10 questions.

Teams will receive 10 points for each answer.

There will be no penalties for wrong answers.

There will be five members on a team and up to five alternates.

The winners will be determined in the following manner: The teams with the highest total points from all six of their rounds will be the winners. In case of a tie, the teams who are tied will be co-winners. Winning teams will receive a trophy for their school. In the case of a tie, neither team will receive the trophy that day. Another trophy will be purchased and engraved and presented to each of those teams at a later agreed upon date. There will be a first place, second place and third place winning teams (teams in case of a tie).

The Ashford Park Elementary School Reading Bowl Team with their DeKalb championship and regional championship trophies.

The 17 books totaled 5,100 pages, Somerson said, and that meant he spent more than 300 hours preparing 1,800 practice questions.

“Over an 18 week period, I asked the students these 1,800 questions to the tune of about 200 a day every Tuesday and Thursday after school from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the school’s library.  We practice by using a buzzer system the same way they do in competition,” he explained.

“Probably the most amazing part is how each students rose to the occasion and studied for what is estimated to be over 200 hours in five months,” he said. “In the end, it is their confidence that has allowed for them to do so well. At this point, they all feel part of one team with one goal. In addition, they have all bonded and have all become great friends who will never forget this valuable learning experience.”

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.