Every day since last March, Lisa Wedel has been in charge of circulating a mobile library at St. Paul’s Lutheran School.

The private school’s actual library has been closed during the pandemic, but Wedel stops by each classroom every day with a cart full of books.

Students have taken advantage of the focus on reading. The school’s first- and third-graders recently placed first in a nationwide accelerated reading challenge.

It’s the first time in seven years that a St. Paul’s class has won the six-week competition among about 30 Lutheran schools across the country.

“We were ecstatic because it’s been a few years,” Wedel said.

Schools participating in the challenge report the number of students in each classroom, and each classroom is given points for the average number of books read per student.

Students read the books and then must pass quizzes to test their reading comprehension. The more complicated a book is, the more points the quiz is worth.

Over six weeks, the school’s first-graders passed 3,525 tests, and third-graders passed 737 tests.

Teacher Ruth Ann Schultz said her first-graders have come close to winning in recent years, but this year’s group deserves special recognition.

“The kids have been doing a fabulous job,” she said. “I’m so proud of them because they have really just soared their reading skills. ... This is above and beyond the regular academic curriculum that we use, so that additional reading and expansion of their knowledge base has been so beneficial and is something to be so proud of.”

The school used a theme of “Reading is Sweet.” Students who read the most books received a variety of treats, ranging from doughnuts to monster-themed cookies.

Wedel said the pandemic has given kids more time to read, but trying to keep them focused on reading instead of video games and technology has been a challenge.

Jim Kroll, who teaches religion, math and social studies at the middle-school level, helps run the reading challenge. He said the program has grown this year.

“The fact that Lisa has worked with the teachers really says a lot about her desire to build a love of reading with the kids,” he said of Wedel. “We’re very proud.”

Schultz said the emphasis on reading sets students up for success.

“Their reading skills have blossomed so much,” she said. “I’ve been teaching for 35 years, and these first-graders have just made so much progress because they have been reading so much, and they should be so proud.”