LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC Anushka Shrivastava loves books about drawing and creativity. Her twin sister, Aarushi, leans toward spaceships and animals.
But given an opportunity both will cozy up with a Dr. Seuss classic or the latest princess adventure.
“We have a pile (of books) that Anushka reads, a pile that I read and a pile that we both read,” Aarushi explained of the passion that has consumed much of their free time for nearly as long as they can remember.
The Midway Elementary School first-graders set another standard for reading recently when they finished first in their grade level in the statewide Read with the Gamecocks program. The Lexington 1 students earned the same distinction last year as kindergarten students.
Read with the Gamecock is an initiative of the University of South Carolina athletics department that challenges elementary school students to read as many pages as they can during a designated time period. The program includes kindergarten through fifth grades and rewards students with invitations to USC basketball games, where they are publically recognized. The top readers also receive invitations to a pregame reading celebration with USC’s mascot, Cocky.
Anushka and Aarushi received the Highest Reading Hero Awards for their grade level during halftime ceremonies of the USC Women’s Basketball game Nov. 10 against Louisiana Tech. Each sister read more than 4,000 pages during a three-week period in October, one of three challenge periods in this year’s competition.
“They love reading,” said their mother, Archana Shrivastava. “When they were in preschool I would always read to them. They loved listening to the stories and everything.”
And with a high appetite for books in the home, the family regularly comes home with as many as 40 books at a time.
“Sometimes if both my husband ( Awanish) and I are there we will get more than that because we have the two (library) cards,” their mother said.
And while reading has been its own reward, Archana Shrivastava said having the chance to attend USC sporting events has offered her daughters an extra incentive.
“You won’t believe how crazy they are about the Gamecocks,” she said. “They’re always asking ‘do we get to go the Gamecocks match?’”
Midway first-grade teacher Andrea McLane said programs like Read with the Gamecocks, along with daily examples of adults reading, are essential to developing a love of reading among young people.
“If children don’t see a value in reading, there is no value in reading,” she said. “They’ve got to see the adults around them reading. That’s what we do to open our minds and our imaginations.”
The third reading session ended earlier this month, and the next group of winners will be recognized Feb. 23 when the USC Women’s Basketball team plays Florida.