Reason to Read

Help literacy find its mark

"It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting . . . "

-- From Paolo Coelho's "The Alchemist"

The virtue of reading so well described above is from a book chosen by Les Perkins of Mt. Hood, one of five Hood River County readers who describe one of their favorite books in "Beloved Books" on page B1 of this issue.

All five respondents readily agreed to write about a book, and all five made the same observation: it was tough to decide. Surprisingly or not, none of the readers had one single book that stood out. This is what comes with reading plenty of good books.

The feature on page B1 is merely a reflection of opportunities for enjoying and increasing literacy in Hood River County.

Meanwhile, impending budget cuts threaten to strap the state's schools, putting at risk the critical goal of reading skill development.

The 2002 State of Oregon Report Card for Hood River County School District gave mixed reviews to students' reading levels when it was issued earlier this month. Among eighth graders, 53 percent met the 2001 state standards, compared to 62 percent statewide. Fifth-graders were slightly behind the state rate of 77 percent, with 75 percent meeting the standard here.

What's encouraging is that among Hood River County third graders -- a crucial age for reading in terms of both skill and motivation -- 86 percent met the standard. The state average is 84 percent. And 58 percent of Hood River 10th graders met or exceeded the standards, compared to the state average of 53 percent.

Scores were also mixed among reading's cousin, writing. Third graders were five percentage points below the state average of 75 percent; fifth graders matched the state rate of 75 percent; eighth-graders (at 55 percent) and 10th graders (39 percent) were one and three percentage points below the state averages.

Reading is not just about scores, yet it is about more than "the possibility of having a dream come true."

Somewhere between practicality and joy rests the simple foundations of knowledge gathering and information expression. Neither can happen without solid reading skills.

Opportunities exist for fostering both basic skills and the love of reading. One is 20-20 Vision, described on page A1, the library's new fundraising and reading enrichment campaign.

More importantly are reading assistance programs such as the fledgling START (Start Making A Reader Today) programs at Mid-Valley and Parkdale schools. The Mid-Valley program in particular needs more adult volunteers to spend one hour a week reading with children.

SMART is a new program directed primarily at children of low-income families or others in need of specific reading attention at the primary grade levels. But ask most any teacher in the district if they could use reading mentors in their classes; they'll crack a smile as you crack a book with a kid.

The emphasis on reading is timely. The annual Read Across America is Friday. Every year, on or about the March 2 birthday anniversary of the late Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), students across the U.S. have fun with reading. Schools throughout Hood River County are planning activities to honor Dr. Seuss and books in general.

Schools are always open to visitors checking out what's happening in classrooms, and the sake of reading and all it delivers, Friday would be the ideal day.

To quote Dr. Seuss himself:

"If you never have, you should. These things are fun and fun is good."

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