Students in the IDEA Public Schools network have the opportunity to become millionaires in a way that may be even more valuable than the money associated with that title. Students in the public charter system are encouraged to join the Millionaire Readers Club by reading one million or more words during the school year.

Most children’s chapter books have around 16,000 words, meaning that students would have to read an average of 62-63 books to reach the desired million. However, one series has been a game changer both for the word counts and for getting kids into the competition in the first place: Harry Potter.

“Kids want a fascinating adventure,” said Damian Adams, 9, who at 200,000 words is on his way to join the Millionaire Readers Club at IDEA South Flores.

His classmate Damian Eguia, 9, was dressed as the “boy who lived” for the school’s literary-themed costume parade and contest. Eguia made the Millionaire Readers Club in third grade, and is on track for a repeat.

Eguia increases the goals for himself. One million words was easy, so he’s going for one-and-a-half million this year.

“I never waste a minute of my time,” Eguia said.

The two aspiring millionaires are not alone in their love of J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular series.

On Monday, Halloween, the gym was full of Harry Potters and Hermione Grangers as students dressed as characters from their favorite books. Hobbits, Katniss Everdeens, a BFG, and a Curious George with the Man in the Yellow Hat also marched around the gym in a parade with an array of other characters.

Several others are also on their way to millionaire status, according to fourth grade teacher Jezzette Rivera. She said that at the beginning of the year it takes some convincing, but then there will come “that book” that ignites kids’ love of reading.

“In the beginning it’s a lot of work,” Rivera said. “Once they like reading you don’t have to do anything.”

This year her class came in ready to read. She said she has enjoyed watching students like Eguia and Adams lead the charge into a life-long love of reading. Rivera also teaches them to pace their reading. Along the way she sits with each child to make sure they are reading, comprehending, and keeping a steady pace.

Learning to time manage and pursue long-term goals is almost as valuable as the books themselves.

“In my free time, I set little goals,” Adams said.

These fourth graders are in the years when “reading to learn” is a critical skill. Adams said it was his mother who told him – way back in first grade, he tells me – that what his teachers said was true. He would need to read for the rest of his life.

“Your whole life is about reading!” Adams said.

At the end of the year, the students who made it into the Millionaire Readers Club will have a celebratory brunch, and a trip to Barnes & Noble to select a new book. Rivera ups the stakes and takes the first millionaire of the year to a special lunch.

At IDEA South Flores the love of reading, the pure joy of characters, and their “fascinating adventures” are on full display, for Halloween and beyond.

A student is dressed as 'If You Give a Mouse a Cookie' won the award for the cutest costume.
A student is dressed as ‘If You Give a Mouse a Cookie’ won the award for the cutest costume. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.