January 20, 2004
Tifton-- A possible solution to the national literacy problem could sit right under our noses, an effective approach that costs literally pennies a day per child to teach their brothers and sisters how to read.
Take the child’s book, “Froggy Plays in the Band,” where learning can happen anywhere, at anyplace, from anyone who knows more than you do about a topic, and willing to share what he or she knows.
Eight-year-old Priscilla Bolden learned that reading is exciting. “I like the action in it and the pictures,”says the grade schooler sitting at the family’s dining table. She shares her excitement, everyday after school for about 15-minutes, with her two-year old sister, Hope. “I get to teach her how to read,” says the young reading teacher.
The 83 reading ambassadors can trade-in up to two books everyday, helping about 100 more kids learn to read at home. The program is the brainchild of Mike Brumby, who directs a local education foundation. “We are a small community with a lot of nice people, but we don’t have a lot of money. And, so, the idea is how we can do this without costing us an arm and a leg,”says Mike, the executive director of the Tift County Foundation for Educational Excellence.
The program operates without federal money, but relies mostly on volunteers who help an hour a week. Local individuals and civic clubs gave money to start the project, the first of its kind in the US, resulting in additional benefits no one had thought of.
“It gives us a lot more family time together. She learned her colors from these books. She’s learning to read a whole lot better,”says Jennifer Stewart holding one daughter in her left arm while her oldest, the family’s reading ambassador, stands close by.
A teacher’s aid, who speaks English and Spanish, gets paid to work an extra hour a day with the program, and noticed the reading ambassadors’ interest started to subside after the first three weeks.
The newness had worn off. “There’s got to be a way to get back to me,” says Connie Tucker, the teacher’s aid. She found an inexpensive and colorful solution.
“Buy a bag of Skittles.” The candy and the reading ambassadors started coming back everyday to trade-in their books for more. “If they bring me one card, they get one Skittle.”
Not one package, one individual piece of candy for each book read. The cost of the candy, about a bag a week, and Connie’s time works out to about six cents for each child per day for their very own reading teacher. Quite an educational bargain.
They keep detailed records on each ambassador like Priscilla who would rate as a star when it comes to reading to her younger sister. In baseball terms, if you will look at her average, she would bat a thousand. She, and many of her other classmates, haven’t missed a day swapping books and reading at home.
Other kids like Priscilla might do what millions of dollars have tried to do and failed-- close the book on the country’s literacy problem by using an obvious, but overlooked teacher whose been there all along.
The Tifton program gets tweaked a little each week as volunteers see better ways to run the program. The new reading effort is an offshoot of the town’s distinction as the Reading Capital of the world.
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