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Firemen ignite reading passions
Janessa Aguilar was the celebrity of the hour at Walter White Elementary School. Her Friday ride to school aboard a Ceres fire engine was covered by Fox 40's Good Day Sacramento with TV reporter Marcus Allen and cameraman in tow.

The first-grader won her unique ride to school in the "Blazing a Trail for Literacy" program offered by the Ceres Fire Department.

Last month Ceres firefighters challenged students to read as much as possible for a two-week period. The top reader from each grade level received a backpack filled with school supplies, Modesto Nuts tickets, and other prizes.

Winners - judged by the most books read or on Accelerated Readers (AR) scores - were selected for pick-up at the child's home in the fire engine and taken to school. Jessica read 85 books in two weeks.

"She did great," said teacher Maria Munoz of Janessa's reading performance.

"We had great responses from the students and staff of both schools," said Fire Captain Mike Miller. "Next year the plan is to select two different schools and repeat the same program."

"We got a lot of kids reading," said Walter White assistant Principal Israel Gonzalez.

Miller modeled the program after one started by Chief Rick Lasky of the Lewisville, Texas Fire Department.

Contest winners from Sam Vaughn Elementary School were kindergartner David Burns, first-grader Shawndeep Samra, second-grader Alaris Cruzes, third-grader Madelyn Freeman, fourth-grader Kobe Watt, fifth-grader Rajveer Kaur and sixth-grader Zachary Baker.

Besides Janessa, Walter White Elementary School winners were second-grader Nathali Sanchez, third-graders Gladis Alvarado and Berenice Zeta, fourth-grader Swaye Willis, fifth-grader Elena Zarate and sixth-grader Jennifer Martinez.

Sam Vaughn teachers used the AR score system to judge the most avorice readers. One teacher at Sam Vaughn emailed Miller about the program, saying: "Our class blew us away with their excitement for this program. The kids were so eager to read and test on their books. We had many students who were reading two books each day and AR testing on them...The contest is over but our students are still reading like crazy! They are visiting the library almost everyday and continue to AR test each day. Some of our reluctant readers are catching the reading bug and want to spend any free time they have reading a book! We even have kids choosing to read rather than play at recess."

Walmart donated backpacks which were filled with supplies paid for by the Ceres Firefighters Union and the Modesto Nuts donated game tickets. Diamond Bar Arena paid for the embroidery work on the backpacks, and Doctors Medical Center Trauma Services donated helmets.