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Reading when it counts.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The SMART program makes such obvious good sense that there's a danger of taking it for granted.

Start Making a Reader Today volunteers work one-on-one with children in kindergarten through third grade, helping them develop the reading skills that are vital to success in school and life. Independent research, volunteers' testimony and common sense all confirm that the program measurably improves reading ability.

What's harder to grasp is the scope of the need. Perhaps it's hardest for the type of people who read newspaper editorials - people who can't imagine a home without books, and who think that reading to a child comes as naturally to parents as breathing. Those people need to understand that some children will arrive for their first day of kindergarten this week not knowing what a book is.

One in three Oregon fourth-graders can't read at their grade level, a fact that has far-reaching consequences for their future and the state's. SMART places its volunteers in Title 1 schools - those with high levels of poverty and other risk factors - but reaches only 22 of 40 Lane County schools that qualify. Many children need help with reading but don't attend Title 1 schools, and they too are beyond SMART's reach.

The fact that SMART works, yet isn't available to every child who would benefit, makes the program's expansion plan welcome. SMART hopes to reach 20,000 children within the next three to five years, up from 12,000. It costs $15,000 to $18,000 to bring SMART to a school; the money goes for books and a coordinator to oversee volunteers.

The program is labor intensive - SMART relies upon 900 volunteers in Lane County, and 9,200 statewide - so the program will need to expand its pool of supporters.

Volunteers spend one hour a week with two children - a half-hour with each, reading to them and with them. The one-on-one time helps children become familiar with books, and smooths the way toward reading fluency.

The children are given two books a month to take home to their families. Spending book-centered time with an adult has additional social and academic benefits for the children. The volunteers, who include college students, senior citizens and everyone in between, are also enriched by the experience. The local office can be reached at 726-3302, or at www.getsmartoregon.org.

The central purpose of the program, however, is to help children read better. The Eugene Research Institute tracked children who had participated in SMART and compared them to a control group. The differences in reading speed and comprehension were significant.

More important, the benefits proved persistent - the students who had spent time with SMART volunteers were 60 percent more likely to meet state benchmarks for reading skill in fifth grade, two years after their participation in the program ended.

SMART began 13 years ago, which means the first children to participate are now out of the public school system. That's long enough for the benefits to have become clear. Every school that qualifies for SMART should have the program, and all children need someone who will read to them and coax them toward reading for themselves.

There's a good way to make that happen, and it begins by contacting SMART.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editorials; SMART program aims to expand
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 5, 2006
Words:541
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