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Raising kids to read

January 30, 1997

Raising kids to read

One of the most interesting stories to come out of the Tri-State area last week concerned a proposal by the Frederick County Department of Social Services to use welfare recipients as unpaid interns in the schools. Officials there are touting the idea as the greatest invention since sliced bread, an assessment which we doubt. But even if there are more problems with it than officials anticipate, it still has some interesting possibilities.

Dan Cunningham, assistant to the state school superintendent, described the plan as "an elaborate extension of the parent volunteer program."

Parents with children in the system will be eligible to work in schools as part of the public service they'll have to perform under welfare-reform laws. Others without children can also apply for jobs, but only in the areas of maintenance, food service and clerical assistance at the school board's main offices.

Everyone who works will continue to get welfare benefits plus a $5 or $10 daily stipend to cover the cost of things like cab fare.

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It's a given there'll be proper screening of any potential employee, whether or not they have children in the schools. There are some parents, frankly, who should never have children themselves and who shouldn't have any job that involves contact with children.

But with properly screened interns, the school system may be able to do great things, given the good news coming out of Prince Georges County from a program called "Reading Recovery." Designed 20 years ago in New Zealand, the program uses one-on-one instruction a half-hour a day for 12 weeks or more.

That's a lot of teaching time, but in P.G. County, it's brought eight out of 10 students who read below grade level up to (or even above) where they're supposed to be.

The big question: Could interns assist teachers by freeing them from enough chores to let them go one-on-one with students who need reading help? As one educator said, considering what a lifetime handicap it is not to read well, spending a lot of time now helping kids learn may be a bargain in the long run.

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