Cleveland’s Cottonwood Elementary makes the top 16 cut in NCAA’s Read to the Final Four

Cottonwood Elementary students were jubilant on Tuesday after learning that the third-grade class had advanced in a Houston-area reading contest.

Cottonwood Elementary is the only elementary campus within Cleveland ISD to advance to the next round in the NCAA’s Read to the Final Four competition. The results in this year-long reading initiative were announced on Monday morning, and District officials quickly organized an impromptu ceremony to share the news with the third-grade students who took part in the contest.

“They were shocked to make it to the next round. Their hard work has paid off,” said Cottonwood Elementary Principal Heather Barrett. “These kids had a goal, and they blew it through the roof. You could see their surprise at the pep rally we had today. A lot of our students are emerging bilingual students, so to see them achieve this is just amazing. Hopefully the end result is that they fall in love with reading.”

While all four Cleveland ISD elementary campuses initially made it to the Top 32 in the contest, beating out a pool of 360 other Houston-area schools, only Cottonwood Elementary is advancing. Other school districts advancing to the next layer of the competition are Crosby ISD (four campuses), Spring ISD (two campuses), Alvin ISD (three campuses), Pasadena ISD (two campuses), Cyfair ISD (two campuses), Stafford ISD (one campus) and Houston ISD (one campus).

One hundred and twenty-eight Cottonwood Elementary third-graders accumulated roughly 1 million minutes of reading time to secure a spot in the Sweet 16. Moving on, the contest will get more competitive, though Barrett said her students are up for the challenge.

“Our students are reading during lunchtime, during transitions and while waiting on the bus. We used to struggle to get some of these kids to read. Now we are having to say, ‘We have to put the book down now. It’s time to transition to social studies,'” said Barrett, chuckling.

It’s not just the students at Cottonwood Elementary who are being credited for this achievement. The teachers also play a vital part as they are responsible for tracking and recording all the minutes for each of their students.

“It is just as much a celebration for these teachers as the students,” Barrett said. “They also are seeing that their hard work is paying off for these students. If you set the expectation for the students, the students will meet the expectation.”

The Read to the Final Four is organized each year by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Schools are invited to participate.

“On March 31, our students will get to go to the Reese’s Men’s Final Four Friday. We are taking 500 students in total, but Cottonwood Elementary is taking its whole campus,” said Allison Alpha, director of elementary schools for third through fifth grades. “They will get to see teams practice at NRG Stadium that day. If they make it to the Final Four, they will get to stay and see a real NCAA game. The next bracket – the final eight – will be announced next week, and the week after that will be the final four. These kids have done an outstanding job and we are very proud of them.”

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