Reading by third grade is worthy goal

  • Thursday, April 11, 2013

Elsewhere in today’s paper we have a story from the Post and Courier about a proposal to make sure that students are able to read by the time they finish third grade.
If they can’t, the kids could be held back a year.
As Sen. Harvey Peeler said, “a stigma for a year beats a stigma for a lifetime.”
Talking at the Times about this story brought several ideas to mind.
When I was a grade school kid myself, my oldest brother worked for our uncle in Atlanta. Larry was with Uncle Frank when he gave a bill to a man for sheet metal work his crew had done. The man gave Uncle Frank a signed blank check and Larry’s eyes just about bugged out.
The man saw his reaction and explained that he didn’t know how to read because he dropped out of school. He was smart enough to hire an accountant who handled his company books, and knew enough to deal with people he trusted. But, he couldn’t read. And the only thing he could write was his name.

Later, I owned a small printing company in Columbia and needed to hire a press operator. Among a slew of applicants was a young man who had a nice portfolio with examples of printing he had done in a high school graphic arts program. He won district and state awards for his printing skills, and had a nicely-prepared resume.
When I gave him an employment application to fill out, he asked if he needed to complete it since he had the information on his resume. I let him just put his name and address on the application and attach the resume.
He impressed me, I hired him and then found out he was functionally illiterate. He had been socially promoted through the grades including 12th grade, but could barely read and write.
About 25 years ago, when I worked as a district executive for the Boy Scouts of America, Fairfield County was part of my service area. In talking with a school principal she related that her school had a long and sad history of poor reading skills. To deal with that problem, the school district managed to find money for computers. Not a common item then, the computers were used to expose the kids to fun learning games for math and reading.
Those children who used the computers were reading on grade level by the end of the year. Their older brothers and sisters who didn’t have the computers as a fun learning tool did not read at grade level.
These are just a few examples from my personal knowledge of people who had tough times learning to read. They were able to make it through life, but it was hard.
Locally, Rotary Clubs in Georgetown County team up with Mary French, the Dictionary Lady of Charleston. Each of the five Rotary Clubs gives dictionaries to third grade students in local elementary schools.
Miss Ruby’s Kids mentors youngsters to help them learn to love reading.
The Georgetown County United Way is an affiliate of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library which mails a free book to children each month.
Many school, church and civic groups support reading efforts.
Georgetown County Library System has numerous reading programs, story tellers, Xbox game systems as a reward for reading, and new and expanded libraries to help make more books, newspapers and magazines available to more county residents.
Whatever we do, encouraging reading is one of the best educational tools we can use.
Perhaps the best way is to get a book, find a kid — your own, your grandchild, or kids in school — and read fun and exciting stories to them when they’re little. Let them see that you read for work and for pleasure, and that should help them decide that reading is a good thing.
Helping schools ensure that children are able to read at grade level by the end of the third grade is another good thing.
Contact your local state representatives and senators and encourage them to support this kind of legislation.

Tommy Howard is editor of the Georgetown Times, Waccamaw Times and Inlet Outlook.

Opinions that appear on this page in Letters to the Editor or in columns do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

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