“Witching Hour” Read-a-Thon challenges students to pull an all nighter in the THHS building


Brian Sweeney

Students were camped in the gymnasium all night. Here they are attempting to continue reading without falling asleep after eleven hours at the Read-a-thon

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Last Friday, Townsend Harris students were greeted by witches, skeletons, and the track team selling baked goods and snacks to kick off a Halloween-themed overnight Read-a-thon called “The Witching Hour.”

Organized by librarian Arlene Laverde and English teacher (and Classic advisor) Brian Sweeney, The Witching Hour was the second event of the newly-formed Townsend Harris Reading Initiative, the first being the Read-In for Banned Books Week held in September.

“I see the kids when they get here. They’re so caught up in their schoolwork and extracurricular activities, and they don’t read as often as they used to,” said Ms. Laverde. “The Reading Initiative came about to bring back reading into your life. This should become a Townsend Harris tradition.”

The event began at 7pm as students settled into the gym with their sleeping bags and read independently until 9 pm. Then, students would begin alternating between Halloween-themed activities and their hours of reading. The event is part of a yearlong reading challenge designed to encourage independent reading. Students get points for logging their reading, and the points go to a grade vs. grade competition and to help individuals earn additional prizes. Students can also raise funds from people willing to support the initiative and can earn points in doing so.

At the start of the event, Dr. Hoa Tu, the new superintendent of THHS, pledged to join the Reading Initiative’s reading challenge and signed the same pledge students had to sign to gain entry to the event. As students settled in to read, she donated $100 per grade, earning each grade team 100 points.

Popular activities in-between reading hours included the murder mystery-themed escape room in the library, the Halloween Trivia and S’mores event in the courtyard, and several movie showings, including A Quiet Place, The Ring, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Hocus Pocus. Students were also given the opportunity to stay in the gym, where they played video games, sports, and loaded videos of “Just Dance.”

During reading hours, students had the option to attend read alouds in lieu of reading their own books. The options for read alouds were the “Horror Room,” which included “No Sleep” Reddit stories like “The Whistler,” the more lighthearted “Scary Room,” where students listened to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and the “Gothic Room,” complete with a record player to listen to “The Raven.” The read alouds ended at 5am in the courtyard with the much-anticipated reading of selections from Stephen King’s It and ‘Salem’s Lot.

Students and chaperones alike had high opinions of Witching Hour.

“I think this is really fun,” said sophomore Xavier Murphy. “This gives the Townsend Harris community a time to bond and get to know each other…and it also encourages reading. I would participate in similar events for sure.”

“Anything that gets kids to read and have fun and do so in a setting that’s not a traditional classroom, I am definitely all for,” said Social Studies teacher Jake Ruiz, a chaperone.

“I like the idea of free reading, but at the same time being able to have fun, and especially with us sitting here over a long period of time,” said Junior Carl Michael Go.

For the Reading Initiative’s Yearlong Challenge, students earned points just by attending The Witching Hour and could earn additional points through the activities. The grand prize of the night was 500 individual and grade points awarded to anyone who could stay awake all night. According to Ms. Laverde, over a hundred students read until sunrise without falling asleep.

“So far we’ve raised a little over $500. I’m hoping for a lot more than that. It would be really cool if students get their siblings or parents to participate. We really could raise a lot of money if everybody participated even just a little bit. Reading builds community. That’s the whole point behind the Reading Initiative,” said Ms. Laverde.