Making reading fun

Reading Day designed to raise literacy

Reading Day designed to raise literacy

June 05, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

Jim Lehrer, author, executive editor and anchor of "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS, says he can't imagine anything worse than not being able to read.

He recalls "Johnny Tremain," the story of a 14-year-old during the Revolutionary War, as a favorite book of his childhood.

"I love to read," Lehrer says.

He also likes to write. "No Certain Rest," his 13th novel, has been chosen for One Book, One County, an ongoing series of events that promote literacy.

A discussion of "No Certain Rest" for high school students will be held at a picnic beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 11, at Hagerstown's City Park. Bring a brown-bag meal; soda, chips and dessert will be provided.


Local historian John Frye will lead another discussion about the book at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 19, at the central library, 100 S. Potomac St. in Hagerstown.

A tour of the Burnside Bridge area of Antietam National Battlefield, where parts of the book take place, will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 26.

The book is available at Washington County Free Library, and the library will offer online discussions at on the Web.

The project is designed to draw members of the community together and is just one aspect of a countywide effort to raise awareness about the importance of reading.

Washington County has an adult illiteracy rate of 17 percent - 17 percent of adults in the county function below a fifth-grade reading level.

"That is unacceptable," says Jim Newkirk, a member of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce's Partners in Literacy Committee, which is spearheading Washington County Reading Day on Saturday, June 7.

There will be activities - games, science experiments and, yes, reading - at the library's central branch at 100 S. Potomac St. in Hagerstown. The library's annual Summer Reading Program will kick off, and kids can sign up in the county's branch libraries as well.

The library is the obvious place for a focus on reading. But businesses and individuals throughout the community also are involved.

Alan Zube, student service learning coordinator for Washington County Public Schools, is coordinating the Share and Read part of the campaign. Local businesses have agreed to become drop sites for gently used children's books, which will be distributed to local schools and nonprofit organizations. Little kids learn a lot of reading skills by being read to, Zube says.

Pam Michael, reading improvement teacher at Winter Street Elementary School and Washington County Teacher of the Year, says she has always known that reading to young children has benefits, and research supports that belief. Michael helps to coordinate Washington County Reading Council's Books for Babies project. Washington County school kids raised more than $12,000 to buy board books for babies born at Washington County Hospital.

Some of Michael's students will be at the library Saturday. And other Reading Day promises are coming into Kathleen O'Connell, the library's assistant director.

One hundred thousand bookmarks were distributed in schools, to Head-Start families, in pediatricians' offices, businesses - just about everywhere - asking, "What will you be doing on Washington County Reading Day?"

A student from Paramount Elementary School has promised to read two chapters of his book that day.

A second-grade class from Salem Avenue Elementary School has pledged to read for 340 minutes on Reading Day, O'Connell says. The most-improved reader at Winter Street Elementary School will win an airplane ride. Local radio station disc jockeys will read to kids at Valley Mall, and area bookstores are offering discounts.

Girls Inc. will have a Read-to-Roll program today. Kids will read for 20 minutes, then roller-skate for 20 minutes, O'Connell says.

On Friday, June 6, The Herald-Mail will publish a special newspaper section with information and suggestions for reading as well as work by students who competed in the county reading council's Young Authors' Writing Contest. The works will be published on the newspaper's Web site,

Laura Huaman, 13, an eighth-grade student at E. Russell Hicks Middle School, wrote "Memories of War," a short story about a 70-year-old Holocaust survivor who returns to the park where she last saw her parents in Frankfurt, Germany, 63 years earlier.

Laura, a native of Peru, has lived in the United States for about a year, but she has studied English since kindergarten. Laura's story won at the state level, a triumph that doesn't surprise her English teacher, Rich Helfrick.

Laura says she loves to read and write.

"I'm really into World War II," she says, adding that the diary of Anne Frank made an impression on her.

Mike Callas, a longtime member of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce's Partners in Literacy Committee, didn't have a favorite book as a child. He grew up in a home where there weren't any books. His parents had emigrated from Greece.

"We didn't even have a newspaper," he says.

Reading and education are very important to Callas. Zube credits him with recruiting many of the businesses involved in the Share and Read part of the awareness effort.

As a resident, Newkirk says he has a vested interest in the county's literacy. "It's a responsibility of all individuals to improve the quality of life in the county," he says, adding that improved literacy is essential for social and economic growth.

But people also need to read for pleasure, says Newkirk, elementary language arts and social studies supervisor for Washington County Public Schools. He unhesitatingly declares "The Cat in the Hat" his childhood favorite. He still loves to read.

For information about Washington County Reading Day, call 301-739-3250, ext. 166.

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