To let others read, they dig into books

Outside of Jill Pereira's fourth-grade class at Condon Elementary School in South Boston, book titles such as "Scooby-Doo! and the Sunken Ship," "The Apple Pie Tree," and "The Powerpuff Girls" are scribbled in ink on a colorful chart.

The paperbacks are among more than 100 books that Ms. Pereira's students read over the past few months for the Scholastic Book Clubs ClassroomsCare program. For every 100 books read, Scholastic is making 100 new books available to children who can't afford them.

And since Condon Elementary is one of 100,000 schools participating, that means a whole lot of books. From now until February, Scholastic will deliver 2 million books to four different charities from Connecticut to California.

Pereira says the goal seemed daunting at first, but her students started from "the get-go" in September. Her class wrote minireviews and kept red folders that were stamped for each book read. They even surpassed their 100 mark.

"It gave them a real purpose, once I explained to them what it was," says Pereira. "The program helped them read every night [for 30 minutes] because they wanted to see their name on that chart. But then the chart filled up and I had to ask for another one." Students could choose any book, as long as it was approved by Pereira.

Reading programs such as ClassroomsCare not only help charities, they also challenge elementary schoolchildren to read every night. The younger they start turning pages, the better. According to a recent study by the National Center for Educational Statistics, children who experience reading difficulties by the end of first grade will feel less confident in their academic abilities. Thirty-eight percent of the nation's fourth-graders cannot read at a basic level. In low-income urban school districts, that number is closer to 70 percent.

Nancy Berman says her program, Reach Out and Read, distributes books to pediatricians, who then hand out books to parents of children ages six months to 5 years. "If the child gets to school and hasn't been exposed to print, they are at such a deficit," says Ms. Berman.

A lot of parents, adds Pereira, think they don't need any books until their child can read. "They say, 'Well, they have to be able to read before they can have a book.' But it's really the other way around."

When Berman stopped by Pereira's classroom recently to hand out certificates, she posed a question to the fourth-graders: What are some of your favorite books? Students shouted out "Hiroshima," "Squanto," "mysteries," and "anything related to wolves."

Student Carlota Feliciano, who read about eight books for ClassroomsCare, credits the program for raising her grades. "Last year, I only got a 1 on reading on my report card [out of 4], but this year I got a 3," she says.

The accomplishments of Pereira's class are even more remarkable when one learns that it's an inclusion class, meaning some students are diagnosed with learning challenges, such as dyslexia.

"Some kids absolutely do not like to read because it's a struggle," Pereira says. "They're allowed to pick a book for themselves. So I try to make sure they're enjoying it and that it's not torture. I have a mix of students. Where they're weak in one area, they're strong in others."

Student Felisa Clarke certainly has the ability to tell a good story. When asked what her favorite book was, she responded "Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie."

She kept going.

"Abbie's mother was ill and her father had to go away to get some medicine. Abbie had to do all the lighting of the candles every night. Then the flood came, and her chicken house was drifting out to sea, so she went with all her might to save her own chickens. When her father came back home, she was happy."

As this reporter turned to leave, student Kelvin said, "Wait, you forgot to ask us why we should read."

OK, fair enough.

"If you're traveling around the US or in Canada, how are you going to read the street signs or read the map? And also, for college and to read a job application."

Well said.

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