We all Reap Rewards From Youthful Reading
For a young boy growing up in the leafy Maryland suburbs, the freedom of summer radiated out as far as my bicycle and imagination would take me.
Often, both would overlap and take me to a common destination: the town library. It was a small concern; the town in its early days had bought an old single-story house and converted it. Every time I read Virginia Lee Burton's 1942 classic "The Little House" to one of our kids, I can't help but think of the place.
The two-mile ride over had a few hills, so by the time you'd get there, one of the chief thrills would be opening the door to the air-conditioned relief that the window unit was pouring into that tiny space.
There, in what might once have been a bedroom, were four walls lined with children's books. The children's book industry was not the sophisticated engine of creative design and storytelling it is today. Serial books were pretty limited to The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.
My tastes leaned toward sports stories, but I also enjoyed checking out "Where The Wild Things Are" and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."
Also in that room, I'd sit on the footstool and clandestinely pull down and flip through books I had no business reading because, as the librarian would butt in and scold, I was "too old" for them. But really, what "child" could resist the allure of Curious George? Of Mike Mulligan? Of Winnie the Pooh? Of Dr. Seuss?
But maybe that librarian understood what I couldn't, that I wasn't challenging myself. For her, I was engaged in a summer backslide that couldn't be more harmful if I were hanging out in a pinball arcade.
Times have changed, but the concerns of librarians haven't. This weekend, Southern Pines librarian Lynn Thompson is out in Denver telling the rest of the country how all of us back here care about our children and their reading. She will tell several hundred people at the National Civic League's annual convention that we are engaged in a movement vital to our community's future success.
If she's successful, she might win for Southern Pines an All-America City award. But if we're all successful, the reward will be far more than a roadside sign at the town limits.
The National Civic League, which hands out the All-America City awards annually, tapped 32 communities recently as finalists. Southern Pines is the only North Carolina community chosen.
League officials usually ask communities to submit three community improvement projects, but this year the group chose to emphasize reading, specifically "The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading." Education experts and research have proven that children who master reading by the end of third grade do much better in school and are more likely to graduate high school.
The Southern Pines initiative grew from the town's comprehensive long-range plan. The effort includes a broad coalition: the Boys and Girls Club of the Sandhills; Communities in Schools, Moore County NAACP; Partners for Children and Families; Sandhills Children's Center; The Country Bookshop; West Southern Pines Citizens for Change - the list goes on.
All these partners, pulling together, have three goals toward helping children master reading by third grade:
- Ensure that children arrive at kindergarten ready to succeed.
- Ensure that children attend school regularly.
- Work to keep children learning through the summer months.
There are numerous strategies built around each of the goals. Those include everything from seeking grants to improve training for teachers to expanding the library's successful "Read to Your Bunny" program.
"Readiness is the toughest - identifying and reaching out to children and families at risk, providing opportunities for parent education and more quality care - then putting these two pieces of the puzzle together is the challenge," Thompson says.
School officials will tell you that they can teach children the mechanics of reading. The difficulty comes in helping children make sense of what they're reading; if they don't have the context, they can't comprehend it.
For instance, if a child is reading a story about waffles but lives in a house where they've never had waffles, the challenge then lies in developing enrichment activities that support reading.
"Community efforts need to be focused," the Southern Pines plan reads, "on ways to ensure that more children are exposed to a language and experience-enriched environment during their preschool years."
That's where we all come in, regardless of whether Southern Pines next week earns an All-America City honor. Imagine if we, the little town of Southern Pines, can improve the reading ability of all our children - and improve their future. Now that would be some kind of story.
Contact John Nagy at (910) 693-2507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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