Reading for the future - Tucson Local Media: News

Reading for the future

Educators hope free books help improve kids reading skills

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Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 6:00 am

Lend a book to a student, they’ll read for a day. Let them keep the book and they’ll read it for a lifetime. At least that is the hope with the students at J. Robert Hendricks Elementary School.

With the combined help from United Way, the Women Leading United and the driving force of the school’s principal, Carolyn Twohill, students were each given a book last week. The Women Leading United raised the funds for the books during a fundraiser in September of last year and while they were at the school, they read children’s stories to the students.

A state law that passed last year, House Bill 2732, mandates a student be held back in third grade if they fail to pass a reading proficiency test. The law will become effective starting in school year 2013-14, meaning those students now enrolled in kindergarten will be the first students affected by the law.

The school also is going to begin a research program, emulating a similar one that happened in Florida, where half of kindergarteners in the school will receive 12 books, of their choice, for summer reading, while the other half will get a puzzle book or something similar.

Twohill believes she can help improve the students’ reading abilities and get them to read more through passion and encouragement.

“I like to balance a lot of the really strong instruction, testing and monitoring with passion,” said Twohill. “This is pushing on the passion piece for kids. They get to pick the books they want. They get to look at 15 books and pick the 12 that they want to take home and read over the summer.

“We know that when kids are really highly motivated, they are more apt to read more often,” she said.

Prior to the research program’s start, Twohill took her thoughts to Martha Petty, the executive director for the Flowing Wells School District’s Extension Programs, Inc. The programs aim to provide children with before- and after-school activities, which help them to grow and develop, according to the program’s website.

“(Twohill) and I had been talking previously and (she) was saying she really felt a summer reading program would be beneficial,” said Petty. “It’s just a perfect opportunity to fulfill, and we definitely had the need for the kids.

“Kids don’t have libraries at home. They don’t have even the literacy books at home. So this was a great opportunity and this was her dream…. (Twohill) really feels putting literacy in the hands of kids will make a huge difference,” said Petty.

While the program was coming together for the school, LaVonne Douville, the vice president of community development for United Way of Southern Arizona, was looking to improve literacy levels for young students. She met with the Women Leading United, a group of female volunteers within United Way and found they had a similar goal.

“They wanted to give to United Way, but they wanted to give more than just money,” Douville said. “They wanted to volunteer and act and inspire in the community. They also wanted to pick something that was their project.”

Soon after that, Douville was able to secure a grant for Hendricks Elementary School. It will give half the students in kindergarten, through their third grade, 12 books each year for the next three years in hopes that their reading and literacy levels will improve.

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