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Christal Watts Headshot

Reading IS Fundamental

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One of my most cherished memories was when I realized I could read. I remember sitting on the couch in our living room with a book in my lap. I remember sounding out the word, "know" as "ka-now." My mom was listening to me read out loud and asked me to stop and point to the word. As my finger pointed to the word, my mom explained that the "k" was silent and the word was pronounced as "no."

Somewhere for some inexplicable reason, the lightbulb went off. From that moment onward, I became a voracious reader. I wanted to read everything, from street signs to cereal boxes, reading was as vital to me as breathing.

I was one of those kids whose hand always eagerly shot up when any of my teachers asked for someone to read out loud. If we went row to row, I would count the paragraphs to see if my paragraph was going to be good and long or if I was going to be stuck with a few meager sentences.

That love of reading, something that I hold very dear all these years later, I soon came to realize was not shared by all. As a teacher, I've had students flat out tell me that they hate to read. Of course, my job as their teacher is to help them develop a love for reading by finding out what they are interested in and matching those interests with books they could find in the library.

Many of my students had convinced themselves they didn't like to read because their reading skills were several levels below grade level. For many of these students declaring that they hated reading was easier to express than the embarrassment of being a struggling reader. As a teacher, I had a classroom library that kids could choose books from on their own accord. Books were usually borrowed on the honor system and if a book wasn't returned, I just figured that it was because it found a good home with a child who wanted it.

For the past two years, the Vallejo Education Association has partnered with the Solano Friends of the Library in our new "Helping Hands" program. VEA provides school supplies and books generously donated by the John F. Kennedy Library for almost 2,000 of our kids. The kids clamor excitedly around the tables laden with books, talking to their parents about their choices. For many us, this excitement about a book and reading is the reason we do this. We understand that giving the gift of a book is for some the start of a family library.

For me, it is imperative to get books into the hands of kids. Kids who have access to print materials can improve their reading performance and will have better attitudes towards reading according to research done by Learning Point Associates through a study commissioned by Reading Is Fundamental (RIF).

RIF is an essential program to give all kids access to quality reading material. RIF has partnered with First Book, which seeks to get books into the hands of kids all over the country. Over 500,000 books have been given to programs that serve kids in need during this holiday season. For over forty years, RIF has been instrumental in bringing books into many communities because they understand that book ownership and lending programs are critical in battling illiteracy.

Unfortunately funding for RIF always seems to be in jeopardy, but more so as the economy makes a very slow recovery. RIF received a reprieve of sorts by a resolution that passed in the House & the Senate which allows for temporary funding through March 4, 2011. However, all of this can change once the new members of Congress are seated. Look at the following statistics:

  • 61 percent of low-income families in the U.S have no books in their homes.
  • 80 percent of preschool and after-school programs serving low-income populations have no age-appropriate books for their children.
  • 45 percent of children ages 3-5 are not read to daily. Children whose parents read to them become better readers and do better in school.
  • 27 percent of public school fourth graders score below basic levels on reading exams. Increasing access to print material is the most successful way to improve the reading achievement of low-income children.
  • 21 percent of U.S. adults with below-basic reading skills are unemployed.
  • $500 billion is the annual cost to the U.S. economy of children growing up poor -- a result of eventually lower productivity and earnings, higher crime rates, and health costs.

Funding for RIF needs to continue. It is why I encourage everyone reading this article to write your representative in Congress and urge them to continue funding RIF.