At Garfield School, boring fill-in-the-blanks reading worksheets have been replaced by video game technology. Welcome to Lexia, a pilot reading program that was introduced to District 91 this year.

Lexia was started in 1984 by Bob Lemire, inspired by his son, Bo, who was dyslexic. The program uses colorful graphics and offers the challenge of video game competition as young readers advance from one level to the next. But unlike me trying to get past the flaming lava level in Mario Brothers, Lexia players don’t get frustrated. The game actually adjusts to the player’s skill level.

Rose Gronko, director of student services, introduced the program to the district. Lexia supports other reading programs already used by the schools, Rose said, and provides students an exciting opportunity to practice their reading skills. She sees its format as very appealing to the gamer generation.

When I visited the Lexia after-school program, the 23 students were so quiet you could hear a mouse click. That was because a “boys v. girls silence contest” was in progress, which the boys won. (Yeah, boys rule!)

Young readers get their game on at Garfield three days a week. They enjoy a snack before settling in front of computer screens. Kids are naturally rambunctious at the tender K-2 age, but the noise level subsides as they become engrossed in their games.

Students hone their skills by playing basketball (wrong answers clang off the rim), building robots and sailing pirate ships. The games test spelling, phonics and vocabulary. The program is so popular, there’s a waiting list at Garfield and other Forest Park schools are considering using it.

When students complete a section, they’re awarded stars that are posted on a chart for all to see. Some have made dramatic improvements in their reading skills. A former special education student has advanced to the head of the Lexia class.

Three staff members keep the class running smoothly. Sometimes they have to settle issues about who was breathing on whom, or who got struck by a stray elbow. School psychologist Angela Leo and aide Kristal Tallungan dealt with complaints and gave individual help. Students were eager to show off their skills and how many stars they’d accumulated.

After a half hour of solving word games, the students are rewarded with a “fun” game called Poptropica, which inspires even more quiet concentration. At 4 p.m., Lexia comes to an end.

Parents track their kid’s progress with printouts provided by the school. Principal Jamie Stauder said they “will examine the hard data at the end of the year to evaluate Lexia’s effectiveness.”

When I left the class, I flashed back to my own early struggles with reading. With Lexia, I not only would have been promoted from the Turtles to the Cheetah reading group, I’d be past the flaming lava level by now.