Several years ago, I started with one young reader when she was in a blended classroom of 1st and 2nd grade students. She struggled to recognize and sound out even the simplest of words. That whole first year, she struggled and tried so hard. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to – she loved the books and could relate every story detail back to me. She was just struggling to make any reading progress. The next year, she was better, but still having a really rough time. We continued reading at her comfort level with my throwing in challenges to encourage and advance any progress. Often we would trade reading pages in a book. In March of her 3rd grade year, she returned from the SMART book table with several books. She picked the first one, opened it and started reading – and read the entire book. That was it! She read to me the rest of the year! The light bulb had turned on! What fun we had the rest of the SMART year! (After that year when we saw each other in the halls, or her classroom, we exchanged a smile, a wink, a wave, and an occasional hug. We even shared lunch one day in the cafeteria – after she tapped on the SMART room window one day and asked if I would have lunch with her. She caught me up on all her book reading!)
I’ve been a volunteer with SMART in Lane County for 10 years. Four years ago I became one of a three-member Coordinating team at Riverbend Elementary School. And I’m proud to be a member of the local Leadership Chapter. In all the years I’ve been involved, I have consistently observed that SMART’s community of volunteers is a proven success, co-efficient for each young reader’s life success formula. The community benefits don’t stop there. SMART’s successful mission radiates out, not only to the daily associations of the volunteers themselves: friends, family, work associates and social networks, but also from our SMART kids. The result is a sustaining process of teamwork where each part can grow and benefit from being a part of the whole, but, too, where the whole, that of improving community literacy, has an even greater impact.
One of my SMART kids said “When I read a book, I like to climb inside it and pretend I’m one of the characters – I love to read!” Another boy excitedly remarked “My family speaks Spanish, but they don’t read me Spanish at home. I want to learn how to read it!” as we recorded the title 1001 First Words in Spanish as his Give Away Take Home Book. He was really looking forward to sharing that book at home with his parents.
This is what SMART is – and what it achieves. Like a pebble dropping into a puddle of water, the ripples of success spread far and wide.