Pizza is a rare treat in Goodnews Bay. No pizzerias or even restaurants exist in the 250-person community in southwest Alaska. So Wednesday morning when 22 fresh pizzas arrived at the school, it was a big deal. But the even bigger deal was the national winner inside the building.
“Hey Alexie, did you have a good time at the party?” Sherri Carmichael, junior high teacher at Rocky Mountain School in Goodnews Bay, asked her student Alexie Evan.
“Yeah,” she said after getting Evan’s confirmation. “It was a blast.”
Evan is a seventh-grader at Rocky Mountain School, and he’s just won a national reading award from the education company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, or HMH. Carmichael nominated him.
“I chose Alexie because he’s a very, very hardworking student. And he’s read so many books. He’s read over two million words this school year,” Carmichael said.
To celebrate, HMH flew pizzas from Bethel on the morning plane. Evan’s family and about a third of the town came to the party.
But in a video Evan sent to HMH, he says all those words he read this year didn’t come easy at first.
“When I was little I had surgery on my ears that helped me hear better,” Evan said. “I’m really shy, but as I do well in school, I’ve been talking a bit more.”
Evan’s hearing problems delayed his language skills, which he’s been building through HMH’s Read180 program. Carmichael says the program strengthens reading fluency, comprehension, and the grit to finish a book.
“That’s one thing Alexie has in spades,” Carmichael said. “He sticks with it and gets it done.”
Evan just finished reading Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations—a more than 500-page rags-to-riches Victorian novel.
The seventh-grader says he carries a book most places and prefers reading to most things. His favorite books are science fiction, and he says he’s learned an important lesson from his award.
“Hard work pays off,” he said.
Prizes abounded. Evan won $1,000 to use for his education; Carmichael won $1,000-worth of reading programs; and the school won a pizza party.
“And we don’t get a lot of pizza out here,” Carmichael said, laughing, “not that’s not frozen from the store anyway.”
Evan attended the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program in Anchorage. In the fall, he’s skipping a grade in all subjects.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the company which owns the Read 180 program. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt owns the program, and the story has been corrected.