VIDEO & STORY -- Clayton Elementary and Library Media Specialist Susan Zolper won a visit from the Phillie Phanatic today, Jan. 31, in a contest for school programs that encourage students to read more.

Clayton Elementary and Library Media Specialist Susan Zolper won a visit from the Phillie Phanatic today, Jan. 31, in a contest for school programs that encourage students to read more.

At the suggestion of teacher Lauren Kassner, Zolper entered the school's annual Reading Challenge program in the Phillies' contest. The program asks each student to read at least 15 minutes each night at home for four weeks.

Jessica Wilt, Phillies educational programs coordinator, said Clayton Elementary's Reading Challenge was one of five school programs that won awards in January in grades K-8 in the Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey region.

"The whole idea is to encourage kids to read, and we were impressed that the school's application said how not just the teachers but even the kids help other kids who are struggling with their reading," said Wilt.

This year's challenge started Jan. 29 and will run to Feb. 22.

Each grade level will be competing against the other grade levels to score the most "runs" by reading the most minutes. As the runs are scored, a "player" representing that grade will advance around the baseball diamond display in the cafeteria. The grade level that reads the most minutes will be rewarded with a sports-related special recess.

"We liked how they tied reading to baseball. That was a really cool idea, but it's not a requirement," said Wilt. "It's great to see how they are working so hard together and are so passionate about it. They're not just doing it as a chore. They're really enjoying it."

Zolper said the Phanatic's visit really started the first week of the challenge with a bang.

"The kids loved it. They were all engaged. The teachers loved it, too," said Zolper. "I hope it encourages everyone to read during the next month and to complete our challenge."

With the help of teachers, principals and even Smyrna School District Superintendent Patrik Williams, the Phanatic acted out the book, "The Phillie Phanatic's Philadelphia Story," read by Clayton Principal Katie Wood. The book highlights many of Philadelphia's history-making accomplishments such as the first public library in the nation, Ben Franklin's discovery of electricity, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The Phanatic broke into dances that brought screams of laughter from the students, and directed the singing of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."