McPherson Middle School students let out shrieks of laughter — and a little fear — as they clambered on board the rides set up at the carnival at Wickersham Park on Monday afternoon.

Dustan Kanitz, literature teacher at McPherson Middle School, said the 235 students were treated to time at the carnival as a prize for participating in Fantasy Advanced Reading.

"It's like fantasy football; they're on teams and they're basically trying to get as many reading points as they can for their team," Kanitz said.

Points were awarded based on the length of a book the student read.

"Small books are worth one point; big books are worth 30 or 40 points," Kanitz said.

The Fantasy Advanced Reading program has been in place for at least six years, according to Kanitz. This year, students only competed through the second semester. Next year, it will return to being a year-long competition.

The top winners in each of the school's three divisions plus individual top readers were allowed to visit the carnival.

Students were able to read anything from the school's library and took a 10-question quiz and the end of each book to prove they read it.

"It's free-choice reading; they're not tied down to any certain book," Kanitz said. "They get to read whatever they're interested in and then they get credit for it."

With so many activities open to them, students may find it difficult to make time to read.

"In middle school, it's a challenge to get them to pick up a book ... (but) reading is one of those skills that, if you don't practice it, you start to lose it," Kanitz said.

Those who served as teacher-coaches for the program make it a success, Kanitz remarked.

"The teachers are the ones who encourage them, set goals and keep them updated on their points," Kanitz said.

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at pmiddleton@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MiddleSentinel.