Give the Gift of Reading:
Reading Reform Begins at Home
In any given New York City classroom,
when children sit at desks with textbooks open, how many
of them actually understand the words printed on the page?
According to Beth Fertig's recent series, "Reading, Writing and Reform" on
WNYC radio, only about 40 percent of elementary and middle
school students are meeting state standards.
The existence of a crisis is obvious; the question remains,
what can be done? Recognizing that reading is the basis of
all learning, the New York City Department of Education, under
the leadership of Chancellor Joel Klein, has implemented a
new curriculum intended to boost reading scores for the 2003-/04
school year. If children cannot read, they will not be able
to master any academic subject matter.
The good news is that research indicates that 90 to 95% of
all children can learn to read at grade level with appropriate
intervention. A caring adult-a parent, grandparent or mentor-can
impact a child's reading skills by spending fifteen minutes
per day reading to a child. It is also important to remember
that as adults, we are role models: children must see us reading
to want to become readers themselves.
It is never too early to start-the Einstein tapes for babies,
a video series, full of classical music and colorful graphics
and designs, are pre-reading stimulation aids for preschoolers.
Unfortunately, too many parents cannot afford resources such
as these that would otherwise be available and helpful. According
to Sandy Feinberg, the Director of the Middle Country Public
Library in Centereach, NY, any books read aloud and displayed
to young children can have the same effect as the Einstein
tapes. The New York City Public Libraries are a rich resource,
which families and children should visit. Many families who
cannot afford to buy books are unaware that books and videos
can be taken home for a designated time and then returned to
their local library branch once they sign up for a library
To promote reading and proficiency in the English language,
Mentoring USA's trained mentors help children in our initiative
English as a Second Language (ESL) Mentoring Program. When
English is not spoken in the home, reading is of paramount
importance to reinforce the subjects learned at school. Our
Mentoring USA mentors, through the use of curriculum materials,
improve reading comprehension. It is beneficial for ELLs (English
Language Learners) to hear English pronounced by native speakers.
The Mentoring USA program is an affiliate of HELP USA, the
nation's largest provider of transitional housing for the homeless.
Mentoring USA provides mentors to children in HELP USA's shelter
facilities in New York City, including locations in Brooklyn,
Manhattan, and Westchester County.
Mentoring USA also reinforces reading
through the "ethnic
heroes" library component of our BRAVE (Bias-Related Anti-Violence
Education) Juliana Cultural Diversity initiative. Each youth
receives free books from Mentoring USA that are read and discussed
during weekly mentoring sessions. Our trained mentors receive
activity books in training, which contain curriculum that refers
back to the books that the pairs have read together. The intention
of BRAVE Juliana is to promote global peace through understanding
and appreciation of other cultures. Reading books is a great
way to travel all over the world without ever leaving New York
As the holiday season approaches,
consider the gift of books for that special child in your
life. The holiday season is an excellent time to plunge into
the BRAVE Juliana Diversity Booklist, as it features books
about holidays celebrated in different cultures throughout
the world. This can be a springboard to discussion about,
and acceptance of, the differences between youth and their
mentors, who may well practice different religions and celebrate
different holidays. Consider giving a child a bookstore gift
certificate, to engage the young person in the process of
becoming an active, discriminating consumer of literature.
In most cases, a good reader is also a good student with good
grades. We adults have a responsibility to help each child
succeed to read. It is a great gift to give a child the
joy of reading.#
Matilda Raffa Cuomo is the former
First Lady of the City New York. She is Founder and Chair,
Mentoring USA and Chair, National Committee for Advanced
Placement Italian Language Course & Examination.
Susan J. Moesker is the Director of Programs at Mentoring USA.