Sunday, August 10, 2008

Poor county promotes reading, raises test scores; it all began with a suggestion from a 7-year-old

If you live in or care about a poor, undereducated community where hope for progress is in short supply, you need to read the story by Amy Wilson in today's Lexington Herald-Leader about how a smart first-grader's suggestion spurred the fourth-poorest county in the U.S. to bring student reading scores from lousy to higher than the national average. It and the audio slide show will move you, and it's not often we say that about a newspaper story.

Ten years ago, Wilson writes, "A lot of the kids coming into the Clay County schools hadn't been read to by their parents. They were behind before they even walked into a classroom. No wonder their state standardized reading scores were dismal. Then a 7-year-old girl suggested that kids ought to get prizes for reading just like athletes get trophies for scoring baskets. ... That suggestion changed everything and helped teach a community of children to read." (Photo of prizewinner James Gentry by Angela Baldridge, H-L)

When Virginia Alley asked her father why good readers weren't as celebrated in Kentucky as good basketball players, Levi Alley suggested to the school librarian that the school have a party for readers. "Virginia piped up again," Wilson recounts, paraphrasing: "This is what the party should be. No one would be left out. Everything would be free. We’d do fun stuff at the party. Like read and eat cotton candy. And we could give away books for presents." And they did, with the help of all the grant money they could find and a spirit that probably surprised some people in the very rural county, where good jobs are in short supply and illegal drugs remain a problem -- though another community effort has made much progress on that front. Read the story.

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