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KDES wins national Battle of the Books competition

Image: Buff Division Champions: Kendall Demonstration Elementary School. Seated from left to right: Eliyas Assefa, Jennida Willoughby, and Zhencheng Chen. Standing from left to right: Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz, Liza Offreda, KDES chaperone, and Jesse Saunders, associate director of Youth Programs and Outreach at Gallaudet.

Buff Division Champions: Kendall Demonstration Elementary School. Seated from left to right: Eliyas Assefa, Jennida Willoughby, and Zhencheng Chen. Standing from left to right: Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz, Liza Offreda, KDES chaperone, and Jesse Saunders, associate director of Youth Programs and Outreach at Gallaudet.

Students at Kendall Demonstration Elementary School (KDES) had a storybook ending, winning the Buff Division competition at the second annual national Battle of the Books competition for middle school students hosted by Gallaudet University May 3-5, 2014.

The KDES team members were eighth graders Eliyas Assefa, Zhencheng Chen, and Jennida Willoughby. Teacher Liza Offreda served as the team chaperone. In addition to bringing home the championship trophy, KDES won the Team Sportsmanship trophy, Eliyas Assefa made the all-star team, and Jennida Willoughy won the Most Outstanding Player award.

The Battle of the Books competition is designed to promote literacy and encourage critical thinking skills. The KDES team read The Car by Gary Paulsen, Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai, and One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia and answered multiple choice and short answer questions from the books. For the final round answers, the students took turns answering presentation-style questions.

The championship match faced KDES against the Earle B. Wood School from nearby Rockville, Md. and was tied entering into the last round. When the game ended, KDES led by one point to win the championship. "My favorite moment was the last match in the final round; the questions gave me lots of energy and excitement," said Willoughby.

For Chen, the best moment was "to see my team win and take first place." And in a spirit of team solidarity, Assefa said the most special memory for him was "to see my friend Jennida win the Most Outstanding Player award."

"All the teams did a spectacular job and demonstrated clear, critical analysis of the assigned books," said Jesse Saunders, associate director of Youth Programs and Outreach at Gallaudet. "Books open up a world of possibilities and friendly competitions like Battle of the Books are fun ways to get young adults excited about reading."

Sixteen teams from across the country advanced to the nationals in three different divisions, down from the 60 teams that competed in the preliminary and playoff rounds held in January.

The competition is divided into three divisions, according to literacy levels. KDES won the Buff Division while Kentucky School for the Deaf won the Blue Division and Illinois School for the Deaf and Louisiana School for the Deaf were co-champions of the Green Division. Payne Yance, of the Kentucky School for the Deaf, was selected as the Most Outstanding Player for the Blue Division and Nthabeleng Macdonald from the Louisiana School for the Deaf won the same distinction for the Green Division.

"The competition encourages independent student reading and student-to-student teamwork," said Offreda. "The students from teams that advanced to the national competition were assigned a total of seven books to read at home, and during school the teammates met and discussed the books three or four times a week for 50 minutes at a time."

KDES and the Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) both are demonstration schools of the Clerc Center. Calling for a double celebration, the KDES victory in the Battle of the Books competition completes a Clerc Center sweep of Gallaudet's youth competitions, with MSSD having won the 2014 Gallaudet University National Academic Bowl in early April.

With Assefa, Chen, and Willoughby moving on to high school this fall, their eyes are set on the next chapter: the National Academic Bowl. However, Offreda hopes they will enjoy their upcoming summer break, "By playing outside and, of course, reading lots of books."

Learn more about the Gallaudet University Battle of the Books here.

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